- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

ELKRIDGE, Md. (AP) — The 50,000-square-foot Recycle America plant is one of the area’s largest and at the forefront of recycling.

Among the features are spinning, star-shaped devices that separate newspaper from cans and bottles, and magnets and ultraviolet optical scanners that help produce blasts of air to separate plastic bottles from other items.

The Howard County plant has the distinction of being progressive largely because it allows homeowners to put glass, bottles, paper and plastic into one container. The system is referred to as single-stream recycling, and several local municipalities have adopted it or are considering the process.

Statistics indicate that more people will participate in recycling if they don’t have to maintain separate containers for their waste, supporters say. The process also reduces costs because governments can use less expensive trucks if the waste material is collected together.

However, critics say the process is inefficient and reduces the usefulness of the materials that are collected.

Neil Seldman, president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit group in the District, said the plant takes in so much material that the speed necessary to process it degrades the quality of what is sorted.

“The paper is contaminated by different types of paper in the same bale,” he said.

Mr. Seldman said the county should build its own facility staffed with county workers, as Montgomery County did.

Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard counties and the District allow residents to mix their recyclables, then transport them to the Elkridge plant, which opened last year.

Tim Goodman is a consultant who studied the system in Minnesota for environmental officials there last year. He said glass can suffer in single-stream recycling. For example, one glass-container manufacturer had a 50 percent reduction in the amount of glass coming from recyclers, he said.

“Because everything is in one container, you have more problems with contamination,” Mr. Goodman said. “Glass gets embedded with paper, and there is a degradation of materials.”

He also said that when recyclable materials are collected together, more ends up in a landfill.

“More communities are opting for single stream because they are focusing on the collection end more so than processing of it,” Mr. Goodman said. “They are looking for a cost-effective process that is going to divert more materials from households, but diversion is not necessarily equal to recycling.”

Montgomery County operates a processing plant in Rockville and does not use the Elkridge facility. But it is evaluating whether to switch to single stream, said Joe O’Donnell, the county’s program manager for solid waste.

Single stream means trash trucks also can collect recyclables, he said. The trucks that collect paper in Montgomery County cost $50,000 more each for equipment to keep materials separate, Mr. O’Donnell said.

“You do have to make trade-offs in life.” he said. “The way we do it keeps the paper pure.”

But single stream does make recycling easier on the resident, Mr. O’Donnell acknowledged.

Neither the city of Baltimore nor Baltimore County uses single stream. They collect paper one day, then plastic and paper and metal on another, officials said.

“The problem is … narrow alleys and row-house situations,” Kurt Kocher, spokesman for Baltimore’s Public Works Department, told the Baltimore Sun. “It’s difficult to get a truck up there.”

After a contract dispute, Baltimore stopped taking recycling material to the Elkridge plant. The city diverted its recycling early this year to Baltimore County’s publicly owned plant in Cockeysville and to a private plant in Gaithersburg.

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