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Baltimore County expands single-stream recycling

A 600-unit apartment complex in Pikesville demonstrated how eagerly residents of Baltimore County's apartment and condominium complexes have responded to the expansion of single-stream recycling to their households. On Monday, the scheduled collection day at St. Charles at Old Court Apartments, all 10 recycling containers, which each hold two cubic yards, were full.

County officials used the complex as a backdrop as they promoted the success of the expanded recycling program, which began six weeks ago and is among the first in the state to serve multifamily dwellings. Collection of recycled items has increased by nearly 20 percent since crews added more than 80,000 apartments and condominiums to the collection schedule. If the pace continues, about 8,000 tons a year will not go into the waste stream, a savings of about $450,000.

"The impact here has been phenomenal," Robert E. Moore Jr., collections supervisor in the county Bureau of Solid Waste Management, said during a news conference at the apartments. "The property manager made it easy for people and set aside space where they already come to dispose of their trash. The program has been well-received."

Decals, printed in English and Spanish, are pasted on the sky-blue recycling bins and provide residents with clear information, complete with pictures, on what is acceptable for recycling. The user-friendly bins are equipped with secure lids that lift easily.

While property managers could balk at giving up space for recycling or providing a separate facility, county officials said they have found cooperation from owners and enthusiasm from residents. Many municipalities require multifamily landlords to pay for their own recycling and waste disposal.

"Not many jurisdictions want to take on the challenge of multifamily recycling," said Mary B. Roper, bureau chief of solid waste management. "But we have been planning this for a while and communicating often with residents."

The county began single-stream recycling in February for 237,000 single-family homes and townhouses, and added 80,000 multifamily units beginning Oct. 1. Collection of recycled items has increased from 874 tons to 1,031 tons a week.

"No other program exemplifies the wise use of resources more clearly than Baltimore County's approach to recycling,' said David Carroll, county director of sustainability.

Every ton of recycled material translates to a $55 savings on trash hauling and disposal costs, and ultimately conserves landfill space. Recycling does not cost taxpayers anything, officials said. Waste Management Inc., the county's contractor, sorts the county's recyclables at its Elkridge plant and sells the items for whatever it can get.

"This represents a really tangible impact on the environment," said County Executive James T. Smith Jr. "It is clear evidence of the difference this program is making."

The county has come a long way since the early 1990s, when residents drove recyclables to pickup areas. In 1995, the county began alternate weekly collection: plastic and bottles one week, paper on the next week. The schedule confused some residents, and missed days meant residents had to store items for longer periods.

"Single-stream was the next logical step in our plan to reduce waste and the strain on the environment," Smith said, adding the county has saved $1 million this year.

Smith, who is leaving office next months after eight years as county executive, said, "I have not gotten as much positive feedback about anything as I have about single-stream recycling."

Since Baltimore City moved to a weekly single-stream recycling schedule in July 2009, officials have found that recycling tonnage increased about 30 percent. Howard and Anne Arundel counties also collect all recyclables at once, and Harford County began its single-stream recycling in September.

Baltimore County now offers every resident an opportunity to recycle.

"We are covering just about everybody," said Charles Reighart, the county's recycling and waste prevention manager.

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