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Ways to Handle "Waste"

Baltimore County uses several different methods to handle the material residents throw away. These methods are listed below (in order from least to most beneficial), followed by some even better ways that individuals can help to prevent waste in the first place!

Bury in a Landfill

Do you know the difference between a sanitary landfill and a dump? You may think they are the same, but there is a big difference between the two. Dumps, much more common many years ago, are uncovered, unlined areas where people "dump" their trash. Dumps gave off a smelly odor, attracted many unwanted bugs and animals and polluted the environment. Today's sanitary landfills are designed to protect our environment and people. Years of preparation go into building a landfill—it is a very complex operation. Baltimore County's Eastern Sanitary Landfill is located on Days Cove Road in the White Marsh area.

While sanitary landfills are much safer for the environment than the dumps of the past, landfilling is still the least desirable method for disposing of material. Things that are buried remain in the ground for a long time, never used again.

Burn for Energy and Steam

An alternative to landfilling is called "waste-to-energy," in which trash is burned (incinerated) to generate energy and steam. Baltimore County sends some of its trash to the Wheelabrator Baltimore waste-to-energy plant, located in downtown Baltimore. At this facility, incoming trucks dump waste into a large pit. Material from the pit is placed in a large incinerator, where it is burned at very high temperatures. A high pressure steam is recovered in the process and it is used for heating or summer cooling (using chillers) in downtown Baltimore. This process reduces the volume of incoming garbage by 90 percent.

Waste-to-energy is often viewed as a preferable alternative to landfilling, since the trash is used to create something beneficial (electricity and steam) and the volume of the trash is greatly reduced as it is turned to ash. However, there is an even better way to deal with material—a way that allows items to be turned into something new over and over again.


Recycling is the process of taking old material and turning it into something new. Baltimore County has "single stream" recycling collection, which means that acceptable materials for recycling (including many plastic, metal and paper items) can be mixed together in one container for collection. Single stream recyclables collected in the County are taken to a sorting facility in Cockeysville, where they are sorted, baled, and marketed to be made into new products. Items can be recycled in surprising ways—for example, milk jugs may be turned into park benches and steel cans may be made into bicycle frames.

Recycling is both cost effective and beneficial for the environment; however, not everything can be easily recycled. There are two important ways individuals can keep material out of the "waste" stream entirely, and these methods combine with recycling to form the "Three R's."


Reuse is a great way to get the most value out of items you already own. You could turn empty jars into storage containers, mend damaged clothing that would otherwise have been thrown away or swap old children's toys with friends or neighbors. If you have items you don't want to keep yourself, you can always donate them to someone in need. Check the County's Reuse Directory (PDF) for ideas.


Reducing the "waste" we create in the first place is the most important way we can keep material from ending up at a landfill or waste-to-energy facility. Try using a refillable water bottle, choosing to buy items with less packaging and using scrap paper for drawing and crafts. There are many other ways we can reduce waste at work, school and home.

Revised June 7, 2018         


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