By Richard Keller, Department of Public Works and Transportation

Photo of plastic bag screen machine

When it comes to preparing recyclable materials for collection in Baltimore County, it is critical that you put only those materials in the recycling container that the County can recycle.

Recyclable materials are not trash. They are industrial raw materials that manufacturers use to produce new products. In the same way we cannot “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” we cannot make finished industrial products from trash or other contaminated material. Therefore, the success of the County’s recycling program depends on residents’ ability to “recycle right.”

Reduce Contamination  

Illustration of a recycling bin with trash around it

One crucial way you can recycle right is by minimizing contamination, which is important for the efficient operation of the County’s material recovery facility (MRF) in Cockeysville. Some items can get tangled in the sorting equipment, causing the facility to shut down for long periods of time while the contaminants are removed.

If collected materials are contaminated, the contaminants reduce the value of the baled recyclables or even cause rejection of the load of recyclables. This makes it more important than ever for County residents to limit contamination. If material cannot be recycled, the County will have to dispose of it instead.

Common Recycling Contaminants

What are the most serious contaminants for MRF managers? The Recycling Partnership lists the most common contaminants that MRFs face in managing recyclables.

  • Tanglers. These items (such as plastic film and bags, hoses, cords and clothes) get caught on star screens, which separate cardboard and paper from other materials. Tanglers prevent the star screens from operating properly. Periodically during the day, the system has to be shut down to cut the tanglers off the screens.
  • Bagged garbage or recycling. Do not line your recycling container with a plastic bag, and do not place trash in the recycling container.
  • Hazardous material (propane tanks, needles/sharps).
  • Yucky” things that downgrade other materials and clog the system (food, liquids, diapers, etc.).

If Baltimore County residents keep these materials out of the recycling stream, the County can maximize revenue from the sale of its recyclables.