Jacquelyn Williams has lived at Brooklyn Homes for the last 12 years. When she was in Baltimore County earlier this summer and saw their “huge” recycling cans, she wondered why her community didn’t have those?
“It keeps the trash and rodents down, and it’s better for the environment,” she said.
Williams, 48, had a vision for a robust recycling program at her public housing complex, which has 482 units in South Baltimore. With families in each unit, she thought, there is a lot of stuff going into the trash that could be recycled instead.
On Saturday, her vision will turn into reality as various city departments and Wheelabrator Baltimore, a private waste-to-energy company, convene at Brooklyn Homes to kick off a recycling initiative, coupled with a trash cleanup and cookout.
Wheelabrator is providing free recycling bins that will be distributed to residents who participate in a community cleanup as part of its “We Can Bmore” initiative. The company has so far donated 400 bins across the city, according to Mike Dougherty, market manager for Wheelabrator Technologies.
On Saturday, the community also will pick recycling block “captains” and host a campaign to educate residents about how and what to recycle.
Most public housing complexes in Baltimore City do not have recycling, according to Housing Authority officials. Brooklyn Homes is unique in that residents at least have individual trash collection. Most of the time, public housing residents discard trash in community dumpsters, which can be problematic because they’re often used as illegal dumping grounds, Housing Authority officials said.
Dumpsters overflowing with excess trash invite rodents. Rodents leave feces, which is associated with allergens and asthma, among other issues for residents.
Williams, president of the tenant council at Brooklyn Homes, asked for the recycling bins at a neighborhood meeting hosted by the Housing Authority in July.
Williams, who is mother to four children and also a part-time medical technician, said she thought recycling could improve the mindset of residents.
"A lot of times when it’s cluttered, you can’t think clearly,” she said.
Housing and community leaders agreed with her vision and got to work.
“I was sympathetic to their cause,” said Ken Strong, a special assistant with the Housing Authority, who attended the July meeting with Janet Abrahams, executive director of the Housing Authority.
Strong and Abrahams have been working to reduce rats and trash at public housing.
The Housing Authority partnered with the city’s Department of Public Works to target rats holes and reduce their population beginning in 2017. Strong said the cleanup at Brooklyn Homes is part of a bigger effort across city’s public housing to increase recycling and reduce trash and rodents.
Brooklyn Homes was one of the worst housing complexes in the city when it came to rats, Strong said. The community is down to 38 rat burrows from 400 since the Housing Authority and Public Works launched a special elimination program in 2017, Strong said.
In addition to passing out recycling bins and cleaning up trash on Saturday, city workers also will top off the remaining rat burrows and exterminators will be on site if residents say they have issues inside the complex, Strong said. The city also will send representatives from the Community Asthma Program.
Wheelabrator began its “We Can Bmore” program late last year to boost recycling in Baltimore. Large recycling bins with lids like those the company is giving out typically cost $15 each in Baltimore City, according to Public Works.
The garbage incinerator has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years. A Baltimore Sun investigation found it has collected millions in green energy subsidies, even though it is a major source of air pollution.
Baltimore’s City Council passed air quality legislation in February that Wheelabrator officials have said could force the facility to shut down.
The city takes all of its recycling to Waste Management, according to the Department of Public Works.
Recycling makes up less than 20% of the 177,000 tons picked up by city workers each year. The national average is closer to 35%, according to the EPA.
The cleanup and cookout will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at 4140 10th St. in Brooklyn Homes.
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Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Libby Solomon contributed to this article.