Another issue, she said, is the availability of large-scale composting facilities to process food scraps. In 2009, the Peninsula Compost Group opened a facility to compost up to 160,000 tons of material per year in Wilmington, Del., with others in the planning stages.
In addition to food, the new collection in Howard will take used paper towels, soiled food boxes, chopsticks, coffee filters — items that, when contaminated by food, cannot otherwise be recycled.
Meats, fish, dairy products, diapers, Styrofoam and plastic products are among the items not permitted in the new collection. The meat and dairy products increase odors, attract animals and do not decompose as easily, Tomlin said.
She hopes the new program will discourage residents from putting food scraps in the garbage disposal. It costs about 10 times more to remove it from water at the wastewater treatment plant.
Lynn Brown, a spokeswoman with Waste Management Recycle America, said recycling efforts start with those who produce the waste.
"You count on the people who are creating the waste" to recycle, she said, adding that making it easier for people will increase recycling. When the company introduced single-stream programs, recycling increased by 50 percent, she said.
Waste Management, which serves Howard County and municipalities across the country, also operates one of the largest plastic, metal and paper recycling facilities in the world in Elkridge. The "big bad boy," as Brown called it, sorts recyclables to sell to individual material markets.
Howard residents already recycle about 43 percent of their trash, double the minimum state standard. That earns the county $25 to $50 a ton for paper and aluminum can recyclables, worth an estimated $800,000 to $1 million in the last fiscal year.
Besides promoting recycling efforts to avoid expensive waste removal costs, county officials hope to preserve space in the county's Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville, which is about 40 percent full.
County officials do not want to fill it with residential waste after the contract with the Virginia landfill expires. When Alpha Ridge reaches capacity, the county would have to spend $11 million to safely close or cap it, and another $2 million to create a new cell for trash.
"It's worthwhile. I recycle. I don't see what the problem is with going the extra step," said retired Howard County Fire Department Chief Deputy Raymond Faith. At a recent informational meeting at the Elkridge Library, he said he plans to participate in the pilot program.
He already has three compost piles, he said, "but this will take care of some of the other things we throw away."
One drawback, however, is that the program adds another can, he said.
"I think it's a great idea. It's innovative," Tonya Clark of Elkridge said at the informational meeting.
But she thought it might be impractical at her townhouse development, where all waste containers must be kept in the back of the house. Keeping the container clean also could be an issue, she said.
Several residents have raised questions about smell, but Tomlin noted that the items that would go into the food-scrap recycling would otherwise just go into the trash. She suggested layering the food waste with pizza boxes or other soiled paper waste or yard waste, to help prevent a lingering odor.
Page, who participated in the earlier pilot program, said she did not have problems with animals or smell. And although she already does some food-scrap recycling with her compost bin, she liked the county service because she could add different types of waste that normally could not be recycled, such as pizza boxes.
"We thought that was a great add-on to what we already do," she said.