DPW holding more public meetings on how to improve trash collection, recycling

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DPW’s new smart cans. Photo by Ethan McLeod

As the city addresses the prospect of a maxed-out landfill, the likely impending closure of the BRESCO trash incinerator and a need to do better when it comes to recycling, the Department of Public Works is holding two meetings next month about where we put our garbage.

The meetings, serving as updates on DPW’s “Less Waste, Better Baltimore” plan, are set for Tuesday, June 4, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, and Saturday, June 15, from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Southeast Anchor Branch.

The public will be invited to ask DPW how it plans to deal with the seven-year deadline on the Hawkins Point landfill filling up, the city’s poor recycling rate and other challenges and opportunities for waste diversion in Baltimore.

“Less Waste, Better Baltimore” is also the name of a forthcoming report that the city is paying Columbia-based Geosyntec Consultants to draw up as a master plan for its future waste-disposal strategy. DPW Director Rudy Chow said in a statement about the effort this past January, “Our customers, taxpayers, elected officials, and others deserve a recommendation that challenges us, leads us along the best path, and moves us efficiently and effectively.”

The upcoming public meetings will follow two DPW already held this past February and March.

Today’s announcement comes about two weeks after a Baltimore City Council committee held hearings about the potential for composting food and other biodegradable waste and to inquire about Baltimore’s poor performance on recycling.

Chow detailed to council members that the city is currently failing to meet its state-mandated 35 percent recycling rate, with Baltimore achieving a state low of just 22 percent in recent years on compostables, glass, metals, paper and plastic. He noted it’s businesses, including private trash haulers, that voluntarily report recycling numbers, and said that presents “a challenge” in reaching the state standard.

He also explained the economic non-viability of recycling in 2019, with programs around the country costing cities instead of reaping them profits now that China is no longer purchasing the United States’ reusables. Baltimore once generated about $1.25 million annually from recyclables, but the program now costs the city around $1.5 million per year, Chow said.

Still, council members pressed for more progress. Robert Stokes (12th District) stressed the need for better outreach to neighborhood that are slacking on eco-friendly waste disposal: “Something’s not working, so we’ve gotta change that.”

Council President Brandon Scott asked that DPW consider the effectiveness of its collection routes. Chow acknowledged, “we are recognizing our current routes might not be the most efficient,” and said they’re using software to reassess.

And following a presentation by council page and City College High student Maggie Staudenmaier on the viability of a curbside composting program–akin to what New York, San Francisco and Portland have set up–city lawmakers pressed for some details about how to make that happen. The Rockefeller Foundation and National Resources Defense Council have already committed $200,000 in grant funding to help Baltimore pilot a composting and food waste recovery program, and the embattled Filbert Street Garden has also tested it out.

Councilman Bill Henry (4th District) stressed that city lawmakers have “been talking about municipal composting now for a decade, and we still don’t have it.”

Chow said he supports the idea, but “we need a plan to follow to truly make this a reality.” Eric Costello, chair of the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee, asked that DPW send along cost estimates for establishing a municipal composting center and other waste-collection improvements by June 3.

Ethan McLeod
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