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CP Takes a Field Trip to Watch Single-Stream Recycling in Action

Photos by Frank Klein

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 2/20/2008

After more than a decade of shifting pickup dates and sometimes confusing sorting edicts, Baltimore City has begun collecting all recycling--glass, metal, paper, and plastic--on the same day from one container. This single-stream recycling initiative puts Baltimore in the same league with Philadelphia and dozens of other American cities and counties, and in line with Europe, which has been recycling the vast percentage of its waste streams for decades.

"People say, `It's not convenient, I don't want to.' . . . You have no excuse not to now," says Valentina Ukwuoma, who heads the city's Bureau of Solid Waste. "You'll see that you have more in recyclables than trash."

The city sells yellow recycling bins for $5, but you can put your recyclables out in any container as long as it's clearly marked, city officials say. And there's no problem with staples in your paper, or window envelopes. All kinds of plastic are good, too. They only ask that you not include plastic grocery bags, anything caked with grease or food, wire coat hangers, and a few other things. Check this document on the Department of Public Works Web site. (or your DPW calendar) for neighborhood pickup schedules and the full list of recycling no-nos.

Ukwuoma says about 30 percent of Baltimore's 210,000 households currently recycle. That puts the city above the state mandate of 20 percent, but more needs to be done; the city's landfill has only about 11 years of capacity left at current fill rates.

To see how the city's recycling regime works--and to put to rest rumors that recycling is some kind of hoax--City Paper followed the waste stream on Tuesday, Jan. 22, from curbside to sorting and processing for sale. Turns out stuff really does get recycled, and much is done by scary machinery. But most of the work--the lifting, dumping, driving, hauling, sorting and collecting--is done by human hands. Here, then, are some of the people cleaning up this town.

Correction: This article erroneously stated that "all kinds of plastic" can now be recycled. Actually, only bottles and jars marked with numbers 1-7 are currently accepted by the processor. Not accepted are plastic plates, flatware, yogurt and margarine tubs, etc.

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