Recycling doesn't appear to be a priority for many Howard County businesses. By the best estimate available, only 15 percent are sorting and recycling trash.
But Bruce Taub -- Columbia lawyer, real estate investor and county Chamber of Commerce member -- hopes to change all that.
Otherwise, he says, businesses may find themselves faced with a law requiring them to comply and a new regulatory agency requiring tax dollars to operate.
"One of the main things we want to do is to avoid any county or state laws mandating recycling," said Mr. Taub, a Columbia lawyer who heads the newly formed Howard County Chamber of Commerce's Recycling Action Committee.
"Once you have a law, you run the risk of creating an administrative nightmare. -- and a fiscal burden to pay for administering the law," Mr. Taub said. "We want to avoid those unknown costs."
The action committee is drafting a plan to spur more business participation so the county can meet a state recycling goal.
Meanwhile, county government administrators also have taken notice of the potential in the business community. They are planning to stir up more interest by placing mobile recycling trucks in office and industrial parks.
Under the plan, the trucks, which already visit four residential areas, would stop at the business sites once a week. The county has not selected the sites, but hopes to do so by early next year, said Linda Fields, Howard County recycling manager.
County officials say Howard's recycling rate was about 18 percent during the first six months of 1993. And though it appears likely to meet a state-mandated goal of 20 percent by early 1994, the Chamber committee believes greater business participation will make it more certain.
The committee, made up of representatives from some of the county's large commercial landowners, such as The Rouse Co. and Manekin Corp., recycling industry experts and Chamber members, has two initial goals, Mr. Taub said.
First, the group wants to draft a plan for raising awareness among businesses, particularly small businesses, about how to recycle trash. Second, the committee wants to create a program encouraging businesses and government agencies to buy products made from recycled items.
"The short-term benefit to recycling is it can reduce a business's trash hauling costs and help the county avoid a mandated recycling program," Mr. Taub said. "But for a sustained benefit, we will have to get people buying recycled products.
"Unless that happens, no matter how high a participation you have in the recycling effort, the trash will have to be thrown away unless there is a market for products made from it."
The item most recycled by county businesses is cardboard. Of the 9,995 tons of trash businesses reported recycling last year, more than half -- 5,277 tons -- was cardboard.
Mrs. Fields believes that the county participation rate could be raised to 20 percent with a program that targets the business community as successfully as the county's curbside pickup program has targeted residents.
Private contractors collect trash generated by businesses, making it difficult for the county to get accurate estimates, but the county is trying to get a clearer picture by contacting businesses directly.
So far, county officials say they've found these recycling trends among businesses:
* Many large businesses find markets for the recyclables they generate and sell them.
"Really big business operations are doing a lot of recycling. They've found that it can cut their hauling costs, and they generate enough recyclables that they can actually find their own market for it," Mrs. Fields said.
* Midsize businesses contract for haulers to pick up recyclable items, such as corrugated cardboard. The haulers then either process the material or find markets for it as a way to generate revenue.
The Mall in Columbia is among those business that fit this pattern. Under a 2-year-old program, the 200 stores in the mall take all corrugated cardboard to two trash bins, where it is crushed. A contractor picks the cardboard up regularly and takes it to a recycler.
The mall also launched a newspaper and office-paper recycling effort among stores about 18 months ago, said Rodney Renner, vice president and general manager.
Mall employees pick up newspapers and office paper once a week and deposit it in the county's mobile recycling trucks that visit the mall weekly for area residents.
The mall plans to launch a beverage container recycling effort early next year by setting up trash cans for glass and aluminum, said Mr. Renner.
"Once you get a system in place, everyone is enthusiastic about making it work," said Mr. Renner. "Our participation rate among the stores is probably 100 percent. It's the right thing to do."
* Small businesses usually don't generate large amounts of recyclable material, making it difficult to interest haulers in collecting items such as office paper.
But small-business owner Ron Reis, who has six Crabtree & Evelyn stores in the Baltimore region, says that by being innovative, it is not that difficult to get a recycling system up and running.
"Setting the tone for the other employees is the big thing; once you do that and have your system in place, people tend to feel positive about recycling," said Mr. Reis, a western Howard County resident who runs his business out of a Columbia warehouse.
Mr. Reis says all cardboard is collected by the individual stores and taken to the Columbia warehouse where it is stored until it can be picked up for recycling. The company also collects foam packaging in bags and gives it to area mailing and packaging businesses and wooden pallets for sale to a Baltimore company that recycles them.
Stores also collect used Crabtree & Evelyn bottles from customers and hold them for recycling. This effort should broaden when the company switches to packaging its products in No. 1 and No. 2 plastics that are more easily recyclable.
"We make a conscious effort to recycle. The more you look around your business, the more you see things that can be recycled. It just takes a little effort and thought. It's pretty easy, actually," Mr. Reis said.