Baltimore County expects to launch single-stream recycling early next year, and officials hope that allowing residents to mix their paper, bottles and cans in the same containers will encourage greater participation in the curbside collection program.
The county, which already has the highest recycling rate in the state, hopes to start the new system Feb. 1. It already is in place in Baltimore City and Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
While ease of collection is the main incentive, Baltimore County officials think the cost savings also will prove appealing to the county's 240,000 households. The county's bureau of solid waste management has adopted, "Recycle. Don't throw tax dollars away," as its single-stream slogan.
"We want to emphasize the cost savings as much as the impact to the environment," said Charles M. Reighart, the county's recycling and waste prevention manager. "Sometimes, people don't realize the connection between their behaviors as far as trash is concerned and what ends up costing taxpayers' money to dispose of it."
Overall solid waste operations cost the county about $50 million a year. The county recycles about 40,000 tons annually, about 10 percent of 400,000 tons of trash typically collected a year. In 2008, revenue from sales of recycled items reached about $5 million. The single-stream plan has to be approved by the County Council, but members reacted favorably to the proposal when it was included in a 10-year master plan for solid waste that they recently adopted. The council is expected to approve Thursday an increase in the recycling budget for 2010 from $2.3 million to $3.4 million. Much of the increase will pay for processing and transportation costs, and includes more than $350,000 for public education and to promote single-stream collection through the media and with a postcard campaign.
"I am confident that there will be an improvement in terms of getting items out of the waste stream," Reighart said. "We have strong evidence that this effort will make a difference."
Baltimore City officials found that their recycling tonnage increased about 30 percent with the switch to single-stream a year ago. Howard and Anne Arundel counties also collect all recyclables at once. Howard County Executive Ken Ulman authorized $3
million last fall to buy and distribute recycling bins to every county homeowner. Landfill trash deposits dropped about 10 percent countywide since the bins were distributed.
While Baltimore County does not intend to purchase containers for residents, officials are considering several plans to make bins affordable and easily available.
"Recycling helps us avoid substantial costs and we know a lot more is going out as trash that could be recycled," Reighart said.
Baltimore County residents currently rely on one trash collection a week and alternate weekly between paper and bottles, an effort that began about 16 years ago. Many have complained about the difficulty in keeping track of the recycling schedule and storing recyclable items for more than two weeks should the regular collection day fall on a holiday, officials said.
A recent survey of 223 randomly chosen residents showed nearly 70 percent would prefer weekly pick-up of commingled items, officials said.
"This will make it more convenient for residents," Reighart said.
Increased participation will also save county landfill space and decrease the amount of trash that is shipped elsewhere for disposal, said Mary B. Roper, bureau chief of solid waste management.
"Recycling is cheaper and more reliable than other options," she said.
Recycling conserves space at the Eastern Sanitary Landfill in White Marsh, which opened in 1982 and has reached about half of its operational capacity. Haulers also take trash to Baltimore City's waste-to-energy plant and to out-of-state landfills, at a cost that is escalating sharply, Roper said. Contracts with the city and outlying landfills expire within the next two years and will have to be renegotiated, she said.
While many residents place recyclables in plastic grocery bags for curbside collection, county officials will be asking them to "de-bag." Separating equipment used for single-stream cannot handle the bags.
The start-up date is tentatively set for Feb. 1, but could change, depending on when the county finds a vendor to accept the commingled items. The county's recycling facility in Cockeysville is not yet designed to handle a single-stream operation and officials have yet to determine whether they will purchase the necessary equipment.