More Recycling Needed

That junk mail filling up your mailbox at home and office paper spewing out of your printer is a major contributor to the mountains of trash going up the smokestacks of Montgomery County's incinerator.

A recent study presented to the County Council showed that the nonresidential sector throws away more paper than it recycles. And even single-family residences, which are by far our best recyclers, are throwing away almost as much paper as they recycle.

The county has taken a number of steps recently to improve its recycling rate. Not only are residents and businesses required to recycle certain items, such as paper, but we have upped our enforcement by prohibiting trash haulers from disposing of these recyclables as trash.

Beginning next year, haulers can be fined for violations. This summer, we completed a rollout of large blue carts to all single-family homes, a program started at my suggestion. A family's newspapers, junk mail, cereal and cracker boxes and cardboard go into the big blue carts. Based on an earlier pilot program, we know this can increase mixed-paper collection by between 40 percent and 95 percent.

But much more needs to be done if we are going to meet our target of recycling 50 percent of our trash and garbage.

The commercial sector, with a recycling rate of only 30 percent, "needs improvement," as our report cards used to say. Unfortunately, the executive staff estimates that a commercial and/or multifamily recycling plan is still two to three years away from implementation. We can't wait that long.

Instead of formulating a comprehensive approach encompassing the entire county, we can take an incremental approach focused on higher-density urban areas such as downtown Silver Spring and Bethesda. By focusing on paper in our downtowns first, we can advance toward our recycling goal sooner. This approach will also serve as a pilot program and learning experience when a countywide plan is eventually implemented.

As for those in single-family homes, we can't afford to rest on our laurels. While our homeowners recycle 52 percent of their trash, they also throw away almost as much paper as they recycle.

Through improved outreach efforts and information campaigns, the county must do more to let consumers know what items can be recycled and how to recycle them. As citizens, we need to be more aware of the importance and proper recycling methods.

If we don't meet our recycling targets, we face draconian choices: We could become a major exporter of trash, sending our problem to another community, or build another incinerator, as ours may reach capacity in the near future.

Now is the time to make sure we don't have to make those Hobbesian choices. Just remember, the only thing we have to lose is our paper.

Steven A. Silverman (D)

At-large member

County Council