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Trash Trove

City Council Holds Hearing On Increasing Recycling Program To Include Businesses

Frank Klein
PAPER OR PLASTIC?: City Councilman Jim Kraft is pushing for the city to improve and expand its recycling efforts.

By David Morley | Posted 8/16/2006

Kenny Vieth couldn't tell you how many beer and wine bottles he goes through in a given week, but he says the numbers are staggering. As proprietor of Fells Point institution Henninger's Tavern, Vieth collects cases of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon and Australian Shiraz five nights a week. And rather than depositing the empties into one of several trash cans around the bar--like most every other restaurant in town--Vieth bags up or boxes his plastic and glass containers and crushes the cardboard cases the bottles arrived in. He stores them in trash cans behind his rowhouse restaurant until recycling day, which comes as often for businesses as it does for residents: twice a month for plastic and glass and twice a month for paper.

"I would love to see [recycling trucks] come through once a week, but I don't know if the city can do that," Vieth says. "If there's any kind of glitches [in the pickups], I'll run up to Sisson Street," in Remington, where there's a recycling facility and dump.

The sparseness of recycling in Baltimore City frustrates business owners ("Waste Not," Mobtown Beat, Feb. 22), and proprietors like Vieth are few and far between: It's much easier to throw away trash nightly than to store the product for two weeks--or longer when a holiday falls on a Monday, the citywide day for glass recycling. So the City Council held a hearing last month at which it discussed Resolution 06-0161R, which suggests that the city either help bars, restaurants, and groceries organize and find private recycling contractors or implement more efficient and effective recycling and composting programs for such establishments. At the hearing, council members listened to representatives from area grocery stores and restaurants complain that the biweekly recycling schedule promotes the generation of trash because business owners don't want to stow bottles for up two or three weeks.

City Council resolutions don't create laws or city code--in fact, resolutions just state the position of the City Council and don't hold any weight at all--but supporters of this measure say they hope it will encourage Baltimore residents and city agencies to suggest solutions to the problem.

The recycling resolution hearing was part of the City Council's "effort to become Kyoto-compliant," says Councilman Jim Kraft (D-1st District), referring to the 1997 international treaty to reduce global warming, which took effect last year. The United States opted out of the treaty, but many cities across the country, including Baltimore, have resolved to look for ways to become voluntarily compliant with Kyoto Treaty by 2012.

Kraft, a sponsor of the recycling resolution, says the city should establish an Office of Sustainability to coordinate more viable recycling options, provide information about sustainable building, and act as a watchdog to ensure that city agencies operate in an environmentally friendly manner.

At the hearing, Marcia Collins, legislative liaison for the city Department of Public Works, testified that Baltimore's recycling program is designed primarily as a residential service, though businesses are permitted to participate.

"The problem is that the food and beverage industry produce more than can be handled and sorted," she said, noting that there isn't money in this year's budget to hire more staff to keep up with the needs of businesses. "Additional pickups would be beyond what our current staffing can provide."

Dana Koteen, a server at Roy's Restaurant in Harbor East who also coordinates recycling efforts there, testified at the hearing resolution as well. He started recycling there after witnessing the waste the restaurant produced and tossed in the garbage. Roy's, he says, produces "about 2,500 glass bottles a month."

The city already has a Commission on Resource Conservation, which is supposed to help the city reduce solid waste, implement recycling, and conserve energy and water. But the commission is now largely defunct; in fact, Department of Public Works spokesman Bob Murrow says he hasn't heard anything from the commission since January 2004.

Regardless of what the city does, Vieth and Koteen will continue doing what they consider to be a civic duty: voluntarily recycling what they can and encouraging other city restaurants to do the same.

"Now that I'm starting to get older, I'm thinking in a more responsible manner," Vieth says. "I've got some nieces and I wonder what the planet's going to be like when they get older. I just want to do what I can."

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