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Baltimore County Now

Stay informed of what's happening in Baltimore County.
Keyword: public works

photo of baled plasticRashida White
Public Information Specialist, Recycling Division

“What happens to my recyclables after they are collected?”  I get this question from time to time. Many people consider the process of recycling as simply putting materials out for collection and expecting them to “disappear.” However, collection is only the first step in the recycling process.

The second step in the recycling process involves processing the recyclables and turning them into marketable products. How does this happen? Well, once collected, recyclables are taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF – pronounced murf), where recyclables are placed on a series of conveyor belts and sorted multiple ways.  Sorting involves screens, magnets, air currents and also manual picking. After the material is separated by type, it is then baled and prepared for pickup or shipped to manufacturers. 

Recyclables are considered commodities – goods that can be sold at fluctuating prices. So, after leaving the MRF, these materials will be sold to local, regional, national and international businesses to become raw materials for new products. The materials end up in a manufacturing facility, where they are used as a substitute for virgin materials (paper for wood, aluminum cans for bauxite ore, plastics for oil, etc.).

Depending on the type of material and facility, a variety of new products are made. For example, new cans can be made out of recycled aluminum; pulverized glass can be used for a variety of construction projects; steel cans can be made into new steel cans or other steel products such as vehicles, appliances and construction material; and plastics, depending on the grade, can be made into products such as clothing, car parts, pipes, pails, lumber and pallets.

This leads to the third and final step in the recycling process, which is purchasing recycled products. Buying recycled products is a critical step for the overall recycling process because it creates and sustains a market demand for recyclables. The more recycled products consumers buy, the more manufacturers create products made from recycled materials. Without an adequate demand for recycled products, recycling would be ineffective.

So, if you have ever wondered what happens to your recyclables after collection, you may be buying them, wearing them and even driving them!


photo of Adopt-A-Road signKristi Pilarski, Adopt-A-Road Coordinator, Bureau of Highways

Cigarette butts, soda cans and other trash you may see along the road is not just unsightly, but it can get washed down into storm drains during a heavy rain, wash into our waterways and pollute recreational water areas, drinking water supplies, and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay. This is why Adopt-A-Road is one of our solutions for the environment and your community.

You can see our green and white Adopt-A-Road signs all around Baltimore County, showing community support for a Clean, Green Baltimore County. It is easy to join the Adopt-A-Road program. A group makes a commitment to pick up roadside litter just four times per year for at least two years.

We receive support from the community from all types of adopters. Adopters include civic and non-profit organizations, school groups, commercial and private enterprises, families and individuals. We have adopters of all ages, the youngest being 12 years old. I am always looking for new adopters, individuals or groups, to help grow the Adopt-A-Road program.

This program is a great service project for all sorts of groups, and especially helpful for high school students who need community service hours to graduate. It’s a nice way for families to come together to show support for their neighborhood. One of our newest groups, a motorcycle club, even made participation in Adopt-A-Road a prerequisite to joining their club.

Our Adopt-A-Road program started twenty years ago and had much success in the past. I am hoping to continue to make it successful and grow the program, so we can help keep Baltimore County’s roads clean.

I try to keep everything simple for the adopter. Once the application is approved, I give the safety training to the coordinator or to the entire group. At that time, I supply the group with all the supplies needed for the cleanups. We supply the trash bags, pickers, gloves, signs and the safety vests. Each group receives an Adopt-A-Road sign at their adopted road location and we will collect the trash bags after each clean up.

If you would be interested in the Adopt-A-Road program, I would love to hear from you! Contact me directly at kepilarski@baltimorecountymd.gov or 410-887-3560.


photo of a stone bridgeKeith Duerling, P.E.
Structures Division, Bureau of Engineering
Department of Public Works

Baltimore County has 675 bridges of all sizes – from major spans that carry thousands of cars each day, to culverts which are merely drain pipes allowing small streams to flow under roads. But whether the structures are big or small, they all deserve (and get!) the same careful, regular inspection which ensures the safety of the traveling public.

Baltimore County classifies its bridges by length: structures over 20 feet and structures under 20 feet. Bridges are inspected every two years by a qualified, engineering company. These consultants are selected by the Maryland State Highway Administration for Baltimore County and the cost of the inspections is borne by the Federal government. Bridges that are less than 20 feet are handled in much the same way, except that the County selects the bridge inspectors and the State of Maryland pays for 80% of the inspection cost.

During the inspection process, engineers assess the condition of (1) bridge decks (i.e. the travel surface), (2) the superstructure, (3) the substructure, (4) the condition of the structure exposed to rivers, streams and runs, and (5) the condition of culverts. Inspection is a hands-on exercise and crews visually take the spans apart looking for signs of aging, deterioration, cracks, structural movement or any telltale sign of wear and tear. On occasion, steel structures may require ultrasonic testing, but most of the examinations depend on engineering knowledge and experience. Potential problems are described and assessed in detailed written reports and any bridge with negative indicators is put on a repair or replacement schedule.

Bridge safety is of paramount importance in the County because the Department of Public Works and its engineers recognize that there are no second chances when it comes to bridge safety. Every traffic-bearing structure in Baltimore County is continuously monitored and rigorously inspected every two years. In short, structural problems are addressed well before they can impinge upon travel safety.



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