A citizens' group in the Catonsville area, whose members say they are strained by a shortage of volunteer help, has decided to close its popular recycling center that serves hundreds of families.
The closing of the center comes as volunteers and others say they are frustrated by the shortage of curbside recycling service Baltimore County and county officials' failure to tell residents much about when recycling will be expanded.
Eight community recycling centers staffed by volunteers have opened in the county during the past year. One reason was to gauge residents' willingness to recycle. Many volunteers say they think residents are more than willing, and deserve curbside collection of recyclables, which would be far more convenient.
"The county hasn't been good about telling people what's going on. People are frustrated," said June Moody, president of the Catonsville-Arbutus-Relay Environmental Committee.
The committee voted this week to close the recycling center in the state Mass Transit Administration parking lot at Rolling Road and Metropolitan Boulevard. Moody and others said the closure will allow the volunteers to devote more time to other issues, such as recycling legislation in the county and stream pollution.
Organizers had been able to get as many as 55 volunteers to help run the center, Moody said, but lately only 15 to 20 have been available.
Many of the volunteers are teachers, parents, administrators and others associated with public schools in the Catonsville area.
The center's closing will occur in about a month, Moody said, but it will not leave residents without a place to recycle.
In December, the county opened a drop-off center at its Western Acceptance Facility on Transway Road off Hollins Ferry Road, about two miles from the volunteer-run center. The county center, operated by the Maryland Environmental Service, is open six days a week and accepts the full complement of used paper, glass, aluminum, tin and plastic material. The volunteer-run center is open only on Saturdays.
Moody said the center's closing was partly due to safety concerns expressed by Charles M. Reighart, the county recycling coordinator. Because of a shortage of volunteers, residents using the center recently were asked to dump their recyclables in bins themselves, rather than hand them to volunteers for sorting.
That presented problems with safety and liability, as well as problems with quality control, Reighart said.
The county provides the bins for collecting recyclables and arranges for the sale of the materials.
"The county is obviously disappointed to see the center close because so much good has been done there," said Reighart, the county's only full-time recycling official. "I think they've done a good job at inspiring people and educating them about recycling."
Reighart acknowledged the frustrations about the pace at which the county is offering curbside recycling service. So far, it is offered to 5,400 of about 280,000 households in the county.
He said progress has been slowed by a lack of money. In a recent letter to the Maryland Association of Counties, he also cited problems with weak markets for recyclables and inadequate processing capacity in the Baltimore region.
Reighart said County Executive Roger B. Hayden is committed to expanding curbside service, but there is no firm timetable. Some additional residents may soon receive curbside collection of used paper, he said, because the county recently secured a year-long contract with a Baltimore company that markets the material.
"Since we have such great participation, it's going to be sort of heartbreaking for a lot of people," said Jean Holden, an organizer of the volunteer-run center in Catonsville, which served as many as 1,200 families each Saturday.
"We're all very tired," Holden said. "It's not like you have a lot of people wanting to come on and take over these tremendous responsibilities."
James Himel, a Catonsville resident who helped plan the volunteer-run center, criticized the county for not supporting the volunteers more. "Look at the cost-savings to the county because of the volunteer labor," he said.
Himel, a former environmental liaison for Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, now works for private waste company. He contended that the way the volunteers wanted to run the center would be safe and efficient.