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The Resource

By Richard Keller, Department of Public Works and Transportation

Photo of a recycled napkin with the text made from 100 percent recycled materials

On Tuesday, May 18, 2021, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed House Bill 164 (sponsored by Delegates Dana Stein and Brooke Lierman) and Senate Bill 116 (sponsored by Senators Cheryl Kagan, Christopher West, and Katie Fry Hester), which establish a recycling market development program for Maryland.

The program will be led by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). The Department will coordinate the program with the Departments of Commerce, General Services and Transportation, the Maryland Environmental Service, the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, local governments and private organizations.

Market development is integral to creating stable, long-term markets for recyclables. Recycling does not occur until a manufacturer uses recyclable material to make a new product and someone uses that recycled content product. Until this happens, the recycling process is incomplete, and the recyclable material collected will still need disposal.

The new law encourages Maryland businesses to use recyclable materials, offers opportunities for new recycling businesses, and expands state “buy recycled” programs. These efforts will make Maryland a leader not only in the nation, but a leader for the private sector as well.

The new law establishes MDE as the lead agency for this effort and encourages cooperation with other departments and organizations on expanding markets for recycled materials and recycled products. The law requires MDE to evaluate current markets, make recommendations to improve markets, target materials that need market development, encourage existing businesses to use more recycled materials, examine funding mechanisms, develop an advertising campaign to attract new recycling businesses, and provide technical support for recycling markets and recycled products. The goal of the legislation is to let the private sector know that “Maryland is Open for Recycling Business.”

Photo of a stack of towels with a tag stating made with 100 percent recycled fabric

Collecting more materials alone will not move the needle on recycling rates. The new law will help create a demand (market) driven effort to increase the level of recycling in the state and keep materials out of disposal. The law is designed to get more businesses to use recyclable materials and to attract new businesses to use such materials. The market development program will build on the State’s “buy recycled” efforts (where we have been a national leader since 1977) to buy and use more recycled products.

Baltimore County welcomes this important legislation, which will help extend our landfill life for future generations, limit incineration, reduce the use of energy and raw materials and lower emissions of greenhouse gases. Read more about it on Waste Dive.

By Emily Small, Department of Public Works

Photo of the County Executive planting a tree

Whether you celebrate Earth Day, Earth Week or Earth Month, during April we should pause and consider how we can lessen our negative impact on the planet, wildlife and other people. Over the weeks leading up to Earth Day this year, Clean Green Baltimore County on Facebook challenged residents to take #Action4Earth by making simple changes to live more sustainably. Our goal should be to make every day Earth Day.

Like many of you, Baltimore County government is taking action and working toward a more sustainable future. As we wrap up Earth Month 2021, let’s take a look at some of the most recent efforts to fight climate change and make ours a cleaner, greener Baltimore County.

Managing Solid Waste

To ensure a healthy environment for generations to come, Baltimore County is seeking ways to reduce waste and better manage the solid waste and recyclables we collect. Last year, County Executive Johnny Olszewski launched the Solid Waste Work Group to examine the County’s waste collection and disposal system and make recommendations for improvement. Some of the recommendations will be implemented in Fiscal Year 2022.

Our recycling program took a major step forward when Baltimore County resumed glass recycling last year after entering into a 10-year agreement with Cap Glass. This initiative strengthens our recycling program by expanding the number of products the County can market while reducing waste.

The Bureau of Solid Waste Management worked with legislators from the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate on House Bill 164 and Senate Bill 116 (identical bills) on recycling market development for Maryland. The legislation includes actions by state, local, and private organizations to improve markets for recycled materials and recycled products. The bills passed both Houses and were sent to the Governor.

The Bureau of Solid Waste Management is working with the Baltimore County Blue Ribbon Procurement Commission to develop strategies to increase County purchases and use of recycled and environmentally preferable products.

Renewable Energy Goals

Last year we also saw the first large-scale renewable energy project in Baltimore County history. In August, the County affirmed its commitment to fighting climate change through an agreement with Energy Power Partners to take part in a landfill gas-to-energy system at the Eastern Sanitary Landfill. The project will reduce methane emissions while generating renewable energy directly to the County.

Now, only four months into 2021, the County has already taken a number of actions to keep Baltimore County moving toward a more sustainable future. Last week County Executive Olszewski announced a new project with SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ:SPWR) to install solar panel arrays at two closed County landfills; he also signed a new Executive Order setting a goal to “generate or displace the equivalent of 100 percent of Baltimore County’s electric demand with renewable energy sources by 2026 and the equivalent of 125 percent by 2030.”

Taking Action on Climate Change

The County is developing a Climate Action Plan and greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory, with the goal of mitigating the County’s GHG emissions and addressing the impacts of rising temperatures and more severe weather events. Last week, the County Executive announced that the former executive director of Blue Water Baltimore, Jennifer Aiosa, will be leading these efforts as the County’s new chief sustainability officer.

County Executive Olszewski also recently made a commitment to strengthening environmental standards for county buildings. In February, he issued an Executive Order requiring all newly-constructed county facilities or major renovations to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standard or higher. By incorporating building practices that meet this standard, we will increase energy efficiency and cost savings in county buildings.

Increasing the Tree Canopy and Green Space

Photo of a group of people in a green field of a park

In an effort to enhance the beauty of our communities while also protecting the environment, Baltimore County has implemented several reforestation and tree planting programs. These programs ensured that the County surpassed its goal of planting 5,000 trees by this Earth Day by more than double, with 11,000 trees planted by April 22, 2021. Not only do trees beautify our communities, but they also help clean our atmosphere by reducing greenhouse gases, and improve environmental and storm water resiliency.

In addition to enhancing our communities with trees, the County continues its efforts to create new parks, preserve green spaces and protect farmland. Baltimore County’s Fiscal Year 2022 Proposed Budget includes significant investment in land preservation and green infrastructure, and just last week, the County Executive announced plans for a new STEAM-themed park in Randallstown.

Earth Day may be over, but Baltimore County remains dedicated to protecting the environment, preserving natural resources and working with residents and businesses to create the clean, green communities we all deserve.

Follow @CleanGreenBaltCo on Facebook for all the latest news and information on sustainable living in Baltimore County.

By Richard Keller, Department of Public Works

Photo of the recycling symbol with recyclable items around it

You likely have seen it yourself, and probably more than once: someone puts an empty beverage can or bottle in the trash instead of putting it in the recycling bin sitting next to the garbage can.

Mind blowing, isn’t it?

Putting empty recyclables in a recycling bin should be as routine as putting trash in a trash can, yet many people are not recycling. In fact, over 90 percent of consumers have access to recycling through either curbside or drop-off programs, but unfortunately less than half of them use it (Moore & Associates, 2019). Baltimore County’s residential recycling rate was 18.2 percent in 2020. Why is it that most people do not recycle? Sometimes people see the process as too complicated. It can be confusing when you start reading the detailed requirements about what can and cannot be recycled or the different types of plastics and what they all are made from.

Getting caught up in the small details can make the process seem time-consuming and often leads people to giving up. To increase participation in recycling, we need to get back to basics and focus on the items that matter most.

Keep it simple

Let's keep recycling simple by focusing on the low-hanging fruit. There are a few everyday materials used in households and workplaces that make up the majority of recycled materials. Fortunately, these materials also have some of the highest market values among recyclables.

These materials are aluminum and steel cans, plastic bottles and jugs, glass bottles and jars, cardboard and mixed paper. To some it may seem obvious that we should recycle these items, yet the combined commercial and residential recycling rates prove that participation is not where it should be, with particularly low rates for metals, plastic and glass.

Even more concerning are the contributions that these recyclables make to the trash stream. Out of the total municipal solid waste landfilled in 2018, plastics made up more than 18 percent, while paper and cardboard made up nearly 12 percent.

Recycling reduces waste

Recycling reduces the amount of waste that goes to the landfill, therefore reducing the need to build more landfills. Baltimore County currently has one active landfill, and it is over 68 percent full. Therefore, it is important to understand that residents have the power to help prevent the need for a new landfill by simply recycling. When you recycle materials such as paper, cardboard, plastic bottles and aluminum cans, you make a difference in conserving our only active landfill.

Recycling saves money

The economic value of recycling is clear in the number of jobs it creates and its contribution to our nation’s economy. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2020 Recycling Economic Information (REI) Report, recycling activities in the U.S. account for 681,000 jobs and $5.5 billion in tax revenue. When you recycle, you help reduce the need to produce new materials. Recycling not only preserves natural resources and saves the County money because less goes to the landfill, but it also creates a source of income.

To help you see your empty recyclables as commodities and not trash, consider their actual cash value. Nationally, the average prices for some everyday recyclables are as follows (Resource Recycling, March 2021):

  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), including water and soda bottles: 10 cents per pound
  • Natural high-density polyethylene (HDPE), including milk jugs and large water containers: 77 cents per pound
  • Color high-density polyethylene (HDPE), including detergent bottles: 23 cents per pound
  • Residential mixed paper: $48 per ton
  • Corrugated (cardboard) containers: $82 per ton
  • Sorted, baled steel cans: $230 per ton
  • Sorted, baled aluminum cans: 61 cents per pound
Photo of a bale of cans

It is important to recognize that a monthly price is just a “snapshot” of the price for a recyclable commodity. Prices for recyclables are highly volatile and depend on the supply and demand for the material. For example, while current natural HDPE prices are higher than aluminum prices, generally aluminum prices are much higher.

While Baltimore County prices vary from month to month against the averages, generally they are in the same range or higher than the national average.

Remember, we can avoid making recycling complicated by focusing on the basics. We should focus on those items that are the highest percentages going to landfill and the materials that generate the most revenue.

This April, for Earth Month 2021, make a commitment to get back to basics and focus on recycling the materials that matter most—aluminum and steel cans, plastic bottles and jugs, glass bottles and jars, cardboard and mixed paper. Doing so, and getting members of your household to do so as well, will make a positive impact on the success of our recycling program and preserve space in our landfill.

For more information on recycling in Baltimore County, visit the County’s website. For recycling and waste prevention tips and strategies, follow Clean Green Baltimore County on Facebook.

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