County aims to boost recycling

J. Henson - The Capital James Pittman, deputy director of waste management for the county talks with County Executive John R. Leopold yesterday after a press conference to launch the 'Recycle. More. Often.' campaign. The yellow recycling bin was filled with items that many people don't realize can be recycled, including phone books, office paper, books and laundry detergent containers.

Will spend $250,000 on marketing campaign

By PAMELA WOOD, The Capital Staff Writer
Published March 06, 2008

County officials would love to meet more people like Jesse Nelson, a member of the Arundel High Environmental Club who is trying to promote recycling in his school. Jesse is an avid recycler at home, too.

"I think I recycle more than I throw away," Jesse, a Crofton resident, proclaimed yesterday.

Classmate Sam Dean from Gambrills - wearing a T-shirt with the recycling symbol encircling the Earth - also confessed to a recycling obsession.

"I go a little crazy with it. We have four recycling bins in the garage," she said.

County leaders want more people to follow the boys' lead.

The county's goal is to get county residents as a whole to recycle at least 50 percent of the waste they produce, an effort that would help both the environment and the county's bottom line.

To that end, the county launched a campaign yesterday called "Recycle. More. Often." that aims to boost the recycling rate in Anne Arundel from the current level of 30 percent.

"About half of what residents throw away at the curbside is recyclable ... We have actually done studies where we statistically sampled the trash from routes," said James Pittmann, deputy director of waste management for the county.

Too often, items such as books, telephone books, magazines, laundry detergent containers, junk mail and shampoo bottles are thrown into the trash can instead of the recycling bin, he said.

"We know there are recyclables in there," Mr. Pittman said.

To get those recyclables into yellow bins instead of trash cans, Mr. Pittman is helping lead a $250,000 marketing effort to get the word out.

Too many people don't know what's recyclable, or that everything can be tossed in the bin together, (called "single stream" recycling), Mr. Pittman said.

Guided by focus groups and telephone polls, the campaign aims to figure out how to better publicize how recycling works and how important it is.

For the county, there's not much downside to promoting recycling.

Recycling is relatively noncontroversial and is considered a pro-environment activity. And at the same time, the county turns a tidy profit from it.

Last year, the county took in $1.8 million in profits on recycling, by selling the reclaimed materials. If the recycling rate was boosted to 50 percent, the county could rake in another $1.4 million per year.

Increased recycling profits should more than pay for the cost of the marketing campaign, Mr. Pittman said.

Recycling also can save space in the county's lone landfill in Severn, site of yesterday's press conference and campaign launch.

The landfill - officially called the Millersville Landfill and Resource Recovery Center - only has enough space to last until 2050. Already, trash picked up at the curbside is shipped elsewhere. The landfill only accepts trash from haulers and residents who take their trash there or to one of the county's two "convenience centers."

The "Recycle. More. Often." campaign includes ads for print, television and direct mail. The TV ad features neighbors competing to see who recycles the most.

There's also a Web site (www.recyclemoreoften.com) and a pledge card residents can sign.

The campaign mainly targets people who already recycle, but may not be recycling to the fullest extent. It's really not worth it to persuade nonrecyclers to start recycling - that generally doesn't work, Mr. Pittman said.

The campaign is the latest step at improving recycling in the county.

In addition to the switch to single stream recycling, the county now gives out larger recycling containers. The county executive put money for two new recycling outreach employees in his budget and the County Council just approved the launch of a small business recycling program.

"Recycling is a priority of this administration," said County Executive John R. Leopold. "When we talk about recycling, it's not just rhetoric."

(Revised Mar 2008)