Call him the guru of recycling. Elkridge resident Richard Keller, who transformed a youthful passion for ecology into a full-blown career, has been named one of the country's top 10 recyclers.
Mr. Keller -- who shares the honor with officials from Nynex, Motorola and Coors Brewing Co. -- was selected in March by the National Office Paper Recycling Project, a nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based group that promotes recycling in the workplace.
"Richard is the guru of recycling efforts in this country," said Richard Kochan, project director of the Buy Recycle Campaign of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. That group oversees the paper recycling project.
To Mr. Keller, every day is an opportunity to recycle.
"If you haven't bought recycled materials, you haven't completed the recycling process," he said.
As recycling project manager for Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, a regional quasi-governmental operation in Baltimore, Mr. Keller teaches state, local and private agencies how to buy recycled products.
His 1993 book, "Buy Recycled Training Manual," is considered a bible by agencies eager to know where they can find recycled products and how they can tailor those products to their specifications.
"He's known coast to coast as far as the recycling community is concerned," said Chris Denniston, director of the paper recycling project.
Five years ago, the conference of mayors tapped Mr. Keller to help assemble the group's first national campaign to encourage cities to buy recycled products.
"Richard was absolutely instrumental in getting the U.S. Conference of Mayors' recycling effort off the ground," Mr. Kochan said. "He was the catalyst in getting cities and communities to purchase recycled products."
Recycling is critical, Mr. Keller said. "It keeps materials out of landfills, and it's a very good way of creating jobs," the 39-year-old said.
It also means a better world for his two children. "I'm concerned about what their future is like," he said. "They're the ones who are going to be recycling in the future."
Mr. Keller also finds time to discuss recycling at home.
In Howard County, he belongs to the Buy Recycled Task Force, a 12-member committee that explores innovative ways to buy recycled goods. He participates in Recycling Rangers, a countywide program that teaches children the value of recycling, and he has delivered sermons on recycling as a lay speaker at Harwood Park United Methodist Church in Elkridge.
"We have to realize the kinds of things God has provided us," Mr. Keller said. "There is a spiritual side to all of this."
Mr. Keller became interested in recycling as a ninth-grader, when he did a report on air and water pollution. It wasn't long before he joined a school ecology club and started a neighborhood drop-off center for recyclables.
"I wanted to be the Ralph Nader of my block," he said.
Now Mr. Keller is thrilled with the recycling evolution he sees occurring among families, corporations and government agencies.
"It's very exciting, because I remember the days when it was very lonely to be the only one out there pushing recycled paper," he said.