Baltimore officials are considering ways to continue to offer household hazardous waste collection after some people waited in their idling cars for more than an hour to drop off items such as oil-based paint, antifreeze and oven cleaner on Saturday.
About 1,800 vehicles passed through the collection site at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute within six hours, according to the city Department of Public Works — three times the highest level from previous events.
The DPW used to offer two-day hazardous waste collection events twice a year, but held none last year.
Saturday's collection was not originally included in this year's budget, either. But it was scheduled after a large number of residents contacted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to advocate for it, said Valentina Ukwuoma, the DPW's bureau head of solid waste.
At 11 a.m., a line of cars waiting to drop off chemicals and other items extended down Poly's driveway, along Cold Spring Lane and wrapped around to Falls Road. "It's been like this since 8 a.m.," Ukwuoma said.
Jayne Campbell of Oakenshawe, who waited for more than an hour to drop off paint thinner, paint and cooking oil from a turkey fryer, said she had sent an email to the mayor's office after learning from her community association that the collection day was not planned.
She thought people would be willing to pay a fee to dispose of items. "The stuff piles up in your basement," she said.
It costs $100,000 per day to staff the events and dispose of the items, which should be separated from regular curbside collection, said Ukwuoma.
She said they started collecting before the scheduled 9 a.m. opening and added a second line, which allowed more cars wait in the parking lot.
"This would have convinced the harshest skeptic that there is definitely demand for us ... having ways for citizens to dispose hazardous waste," said DPW spokesman Robert Murrow. "It's just finding a way to satisfy it, within the confines of the resources available to us."
Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said staff continued to collect items from anyone waiting in line even after 2 p.m.
He said the mayor and DPW officials are considering ways to continue to offer this service, such as charging a flat fee or finding savings elsewhere within the budget.
Derrick Roberts of Idlewood, who had brought oil paint and auto chemicals, said he voiced his concerns about a lack of a collection day via 311. "You want to leave the planet a better place than you found it, or at least no worse off," he said.
Several residents noted the conflict between their desire to properly dispose of hazardous waste and the requirement to wait in their idling vehicles.
"Everyone wants to do the right thing environmentally," said Sarah Lee of Remington. "They're being forced to sit in their cars for a long time, burning fossil fuels."
She waited for 10 minutes before parking and carrying her paint and other items to the sorting station, though some others were not allowed to enter as pedestrians.
Jim Schneider returned to his Homeland home with his car's trunk still full of cleaning solutions. The wait was so long at 9 a.m. that he went home to get a Radio Flyer wagon to haul it up rather than idling in the car. But he said staff manning the event turned him away because he was on foot.
"They haven't made it very convenient," he said. "They've made it as difficult as they can."
But DPW staff said the ban was to prevent chaos. "We wanted to maintain an orderly line," Ukwuoma said.
Those who missed the collection day can check DPW's website for a list of companies that may accept hazardous waste for a fee, Murrow said. Some may only accept large quantities, he said.
Murrow said that they were trying to educate residents to be judicious and not buy more hazardous chemicals than they need.
"We don't want these to get into the groundwater or streams or end up in the bay," he said. "Somewhere along the line we're going to have to pay to treat it."