In light of a recent Baltimore Sun article on “wishcycling,” the Carroll County Environmental Advisory Council and recycling manager are reminding residents what they can and cannot recycle.
Staff said examples of recycling misconceptions include putting expanded polystrene [EPS] — also known by the brand name Styrofoam — in blue bins. Although there is a place to dispose EPS at the county landfill, residents must take it there themselves because different companies are responsible for different products, and the company that collects blue bin recycling is not responsible for EPS.
Also, if recycling is dirty, it’s safer to put it in the trash, they said.
“We try in Carroll County to do as much education as we can to only recycle what’s part of our program,” said Recycling Manager Maria Myers in an interview with the Times. “I get calls all the time [with people asking] “Why can’t I recycle this?” It’s not part of our program.
“If there’s no place to send something, it can’t be recycled,” she said. “But if people continue to put things into the recycling bins that don’t belong there … people do things that aren’t on the list, that contaminates our recycling. It makes it harder and harder to move any product. And if someone were to do an audit of our recycling, if they find all that stuff in there, it gets harder and harder to find people who want [to buy] it. So my mission is to try to clean it up as much as possible.”
The Sun story noted that recycling now costs money instead of bringing in revenue as it once did, and much of that is due to a fluctuating market and the quality of recyclables being turned in.
Recycling experts say the trends are the product of good intentions, but poor education, wrote reporter Scott Dance, a phenomenon they call “aspirational” recycling, or “wishcycling.”
To educate Carroll residents on this problematic habit, Myers said she has been putting advertisements on local Comcast television channels and on the radio so that residents learn about it through popular media outlets.
But at the June EAC meeting, Council Member Jesse Drummond said that might not be most effective way to share new information.
“The new generation, they don't watch TV,” he said. “They watch Netflix. They don’t see the local news.
“It’s tough to reach people on the county level if they’re not watching TV or listening to the radio,” said Drummond. “I only recently saw, by chance, the commercial for the landfill. They just said we don’t any longer want your plastic bags. That’s the only commercial I’ve ever seen for Carroll County waste [management]. They’re not necessarily reaching [as many people as they could].”
Information on the sites warns against putting the following items in blue recycling bins: batteries, Styrofoam, electronics, food waste, ceramics or dishes, trash or yard waste, motor oil containers, No. 6 clamshell containers and cups, household waste, light bulbs, windows and mirrors.
Now single-use plastic bags have been added to that list as they jam up machinery. The county is asking residents to bring their plastic bags to collection receptacles at grocery stores.
But the usual suspects — clean cardboard, cans, glass and plastic — are accepted.
By recycling only what can go in the bin, and tossing questionable items in the trash — instead of the other way around — residents can make a difference in the success of Carroll County’s recycling system by reducing contamination and increasing the quality of the recycling that gets shipped to Waste Management’s recycling center in Elkridge.
Waste Management spokeswoman Lisa Kardell said that the company does not have county-specific information on the contamination rate at the facility, but said that about 16 percent of the total recycling brought to the center is contaminated.
“That facility takes in waste from Carroll County, Baltimore City, D.C., Howard County, Anne Arundel County,” Kardell said. “It takes in from a large area.
“There are a lot of [other] sites that [have a percentage] higher than that,” she said, “and the goal is to have much lower. It’s really in the education about what to recycle, to recycle right, and ‘when in doubt, throw it out.’ ”
In addition to sorting recycling and disposing of garbage properly, EAC member Ellen Cutsail said there are other things Carroll County residents can do to help the system and the environment.
“Composting would help a lot, too,” Cutsail said. “If you compost and you recycle, I can guarantee for a fact that you are going to have a lot less trash in your trash can.
“I put cardboard, plastic and glass in my recycle bin,” she said. “I take paper to [recycle]; I take aluminum and metal to Reliable Recycling Center and get money for it, and the EPS is in a bag in my back porch until it gets full, and then I take it down to the landfill.
“Recycling is not going to be the end-all be-all of the solution,” said Cutsail. “It’s going to be a multifaceted solution.”
Also included in the Sun story is a quiz for Maryland residents to brush up on their knowledge of recycling certain items — like envelopes with plastic windows and greasy pizza boxes — as well as more information on the state’s recycling economy.
More information on recycling in Carroll can be found on the county’s recycling website or by calling the office directly at 410-386-2035.