There were moments when some of the people attending a county conference on business recycling on Monday got a little exasperated. They wanted what was in short supply: help with the logistics.
They fidgeted, during a session for companies that produce waste paper, as speakers called for more Earth Day spirit and declared, "What we really need is to better educate the public." The last straw came for one man when a spokesman for a private trash-hauling company waved a little gray plastic desktop recycling container in the air and declared that it would make office recycling simple, "brainless."
"Who picks it up and where do you store it?" asked Joe Gorman, plant engineer for a Columbia facility operated by Allied Bendix.
His questions came during "Waste Watch," a symposium sponsored by Howard County, the Howard County Chamber of Commerce and Browning Ferris Industries Waste Systems, which hauls trash and is awaiting county approval of a trash-processing facility.
Most of the 125 people attending the conference at an Ellicott City hotel seemed to believe in recycling.
Jack Ganssle was a perfect example. Ganssle, who describes himself as a "passionate" recycler, has begun an aluminum can recycling program at his company, SoftAid, a nine-person electronics equipment company in Columbia.
That project has been "wildly successful," but the cans are an ugly, smelly mess and nobody wants to deal with it," Ganssle said.
"I'm president and founder of the company," he said, "and also janitor for this kind of thing."
A bigger problem for Ganssle are the half-dozen corrugated cardboard boxes his company throws away every day.
"That's not enough to make it worthwhile for someone to pick them up," Ganssle said, "but enough that I feel embarrassed about throwing it all away."
Corrugated cardboard makes up 27 percent of the waste going to the county's landfill. Many people at the conference complained that they do not have enough space to store the boxes and cannot afford the kind of cardboard compactors used by companies such as Giant Food Inc.
Participants said they would like to recycle all sorts of material, but need someone to pick it up.
"The logistics of Howard County is we've got all these little companies and one-person offices," one woman said. "You need to make it easy for them."
The Waste Watch symposium was organized to refocus the public discussion of recycling onto the special problems of business and industry, which contribute about 60 percent of the solid waste that is filling the county's Alpha Ridge landfill. But when the discussion turned toward solving those problems, the symposium seemed like a debate on economic theory and public policy.
Some speakers argued that the only ways to encourage significantly more residential and business recycling would be strict -- government mandates and taxes on trash.
"They do it in California: If you have more than two bags of garbage, you pay," said Del. Virginia M. Thomas (D-Howard).
Such ideas were clearly anathema, however, to others in the room, who kept calling for more volunteerism and public education, on one hand, and more disposal capacity and openness to the idea of trash incinerators.
"Why insist on the public sector doing it?" asked Harvey Alter, manager of the resources policy department of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He said private companies can collect recyclable waste.
"There's no golden garbage. Everyone says you're going to make money at it, but how are you going to make money at it, in a business sense?" asked Alter, who also chairs Gov. William Donald Schaefer's advisory panel on recycling.
Del. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) said governmental mandates, such as Maryland's newsprint recycling law, are not onerous because they will not be economically burdensome, especially once they pick up momentum.
"I think a lot of recycling is going to be mandatory; it's inevitable," Ganssle said. "It's going to be horribly weakened at first. And it's going to take a major crisis to get people to act. But it will come."