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Recycling in Baltimore


Baltimore is…not great at recycling.

According to the EPA, at least 75% of what we put in our trash cans is reusable recyclable, or compostable. But Baltimore’s residential recycling rate is a measly 14.7%

Using EPA data on municipal solid waste composition, the graph below is the estimated makeup of waste that was sent to the WIN Waste (BRESCO) trash incinerator in 2019 from public and private sources:

That’s a lot of reusable, recyclable, and compostable material!

Unfortunately, decades of classist and racist perspectives and policies have led to this low recycling rate – because Baltimore is “too poor” and “too Black,” we have to burn our trash so we won’t be swimming in it.

One clear example of this is the rollout of the city’s 65-gallon trash carts in 2015/2016. During the pilot, both Belair-Edison and Mondawmin neighborhoods received both trash carts and free 25-gallon recycling bins. It also provided a guide on what is recyclable. Despite seeing increased recycling rates in those communities, the city decided to stick with just free trash carts, continuing to feed the beast that is the WIN Waste (BRESCO) incinerator.

This meant the city would continue to charge $12 for its 25-gallon recycling bin, and $3 for a lid.

And the shortsighted policy continued until this year, when CABC and allied groups like South Baltimore Community Land Trust earned a victory – the free distribution of 65-gallon, blue recycling carts. They will look just like the green carts, which should keep more recyclables inside before pickup.

So…what exactly is recyclable?

Below is what Baltimore will accept in the new blue carts!

…But that’s not the end of the story!

Even though these blue carts are a major step in the right direction, Baltimore ultimately will need to move to a multi-stream recycling system.

Single-stream recycling, where we toss everything into the same bin, leads to some materials contaminating other materials. Example: broken glass contaminating cardboard. For Baltimore, contaminated recyclables wind up back at the incinerator!

Multi-stream recycling systems, however, increase the quality of recyclables, which means more materials get recycled, and the value increases.