Baltimore Trash Talk: Where Litter and Art Meet

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This Earth Day, a new River of Recycling will be flowing on the Johns Hopkins University "beach."
This Earth Day, a new River of Recycling will be flowing on the Johns Hopkins University “Beach.”

Bridget Parlato was fed up with the trash littering her daily Patterson Park walks. So she rolled up her sleeves and founded Baltimore Trash Talk and launched the 5¢ bottle-and-can exchange River of Recycling. With another River of Recycling and trash art exhibition planned for this Earth Day, and the Baltimore Office of Sustainability’s big push in finding solutions to our town’s litter, Charm City may actually get more charming. 

Charm City doesn’t give a hoot. We pollute.

A five-cent bottle deposit may be the answer to motivate us lazybones as only 18 percent of Baltimore City’s trash is recycled. It should be more than 50 percent. Baltimore County, which also offers residents the simple single-stream-recycling, recycles 17 percent  of residential trash. And what’s up with the Martin Boulevard Corridor recycling at only 6.4 percent?

Lousy recycling costs the Baltimore-metro big money. About $8 million is lost in recycling income and added trash disposal costs. That’s $8 million every year. 

Plus, some of us don’t know that litter goes into trash cans, not on sidewalks, alleys or vacant lots where it then flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore City spends over $10 million a year collecting street litter. Where’s karma when you need her? Her little wand should be thwacking people when they toss trash on the street.

Imagine where $18 million could be invested? Closing the school budget gap? Buying shiny new trash and recycling cans? Investing in stormwater pollution controls? Lowering taxes?

One person can make a difference

Bridget Parlato and her group, Baltimore Trash Talk, have one goal – to improve Baltimore’s awareness and help solve our town’s trash problem. You can find her at area schools talking up recycling in her crazy trash outfit. And, she posts stats on the amount of trash she collects on her daily walks. Parlato’s notes from her April 13 walk at 11:49 a.m.: “Walk 13. Random walk in Highlandtown. One hour. 125 recyclable items. Most beverage containers. Would be worth five cents apiece if we had a bottle bill.” But, as Bridget noted, “I needed a bigger approach and one that would offer a real solution to reducing Baltimore’s litter problem.”

Her big idea is to host River of Recycling events where participants are paid a nickel for every bottle and can they drop off. The drink containers literally flow into a river of recycling that helps communities visualize the volume of the problem. More importantly, participants (and elected officials) see the value of bottle deposit programs. Eleven states have “bottle bills” and those states boast beverage container recycling rates of 75 percent. In these states, consumer pay an extra nickel and get the nickel back when the bottle is recycled. 

This Earth Day, April 22 the next 5¢ bottle-and-can exchange River of Recycling will be held on the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus’ lawn, also known as “The Beach,” from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.  At least nine area schools will bring bottles and cans to the JHU beach and the bottle and can proceeds from the River of Recycling will fund school projects. All are invited.

What’s special about this year’s event is the collaboration with Maryland Institute College of Arts graduate student Chris Beer’s Synergy Art exhibition. Curated at the Johns Hopkins’ Gallery Q, the Synergy project’s goal is to use art to start complex conversations about our environment. Beer’s exhibition features several local artists who crafted sculptures, photographs, essays and posters examining our culture’s water and waste. The art exhibit runs through May 22nd.

With a great deal of backing from the Healthy Harbor Initiative and the Waterfront Partnership, kids from the following schools will be awarded 5¢ for each container they bring to the recycling river: Baltimore Lab School, Barclay, Highlandtown School #237, John Eager Howard Elementary, Patterson Park Public Charter School, Roland Park Elementary School, Tench Tilghman Elementary, Waverly Elementary (in partnership with the Waverly YMCA) and William Paca Elementary.

Talkin’ Trash

Another Earth Day event focused on reducing litter is the Baltimore Office of Sustainability’s Trash Town Hall on April 21st from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Don’t expect a dull “talking head” event. This interactive and social affair will bring many of the City’s organizations and communities together to talk trash. This kid-friendly event at the American Brewery Building will offer exhibits, food and beverages, and activities. Plus, the Sustainability Commission will formally announce their trash reduction recommendations to the mayor that the team has developed over the past year.

Both of these events are part of  Baltimore Green Week hosted by the volunteer-led non-profit Baltimore Green Works. Click here for the event schedule listing the many eco-activities taking place across Baltimore.

We’ll keep you posted if a bottle deposit bill ever comes up on Baltimore’s radar. Maybe a bottle bill will be one recommendation to Mayor Rawlings-Blake? And a plastic bag ban, styrofoam ban, mandatory recycling, free trash bins, more trash bins, recycling and trash on the same day… Hmmm, what else can we think of?

A River of Recycling highlights the crazy volume of bottles and cans we toss. This event collected over 50,000 containers.
A River of Recycling highlights the crazy volume of bottles and cans we toss. This event collected over 50,000 containers.

Laurel Peltier
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  1. Anything we can do to get the trash situation under control is needed. I cannot tell you how incensed I am watching the mechanical street sweeper go down the MIDDLE of my street because no one knows what day the sweepers come so no one moves their cars.

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