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Last December, the town's recycling program reached a zenith when citizens dropped off a record amount of goods at the bin in Watkins Park.

But after this coming December, the bin may be a memory, and the town's volunteer recycling program could be dismantled.

Still, that's a positive -- if ironic -- development, say volunteers who've logged many hours to make the town's recycling efforts successful.

That's because the phasing out of voluntary programs means a countywide, mandatory recycling program is at hand.

And for environmental activists, a countywide plan represents an important stepin the evolution of recycling, one that promises to get more people involved and result in more goods being recycled.

"We've gotten people to start thinking about the future and that this Earth can only take so much," said Pam Brewer, a Mount Airy resident and member of the town's nine-member Recycling Commission. "Hopefully, we've gotten the idea of why this is necessary into the minds of the citizens."

Said Wendi Wagner Peters, who chairs the town's recycling committee,"(A volunteer program) is just a stepping stone, to get us to where we want to be."

The beginning of the end for voluntary efforts in Carroll is scheduled for this summer, under a 10-point recycling planannounced last week by the county commissioners.

The plan calls for countywide recycling to begin July 1, though bins like the one in Watkins Park will remain in operation until at least December.

Yetuntil then, Mount Airy, which county officials say runs perhaps the most successful program in the county, will continue to put its best into the recycling efforts, say Brewer and Peters.

"We don't plan to stop until those little recycling bins start appearing on the curbside," Brewer said.

The town program has plenty of momentum. A one-month record was set in December, when 46.6 tons of glass, plastic and aluminum materials were deposited at the Watkins Park site. Twenty-seven tons of newsprint also were dropped off.

"It's good, but wedon't want to sit back and rest," Peters said. "There's a lot more to be done."

Though the response has been encouraging, the voluntary program hasn't been without its kinks, Peters said. For one, because the depositors are anonymous and dump at random, the process is unscientific, and it's difficult to measure the participation.

"There's really no way to tell what kind of response rate we're getting," Peters said.

Also, some people have created a problem by dumping their trash in the recycling bins.

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