Baltimore Recycles

Baltimore Recycles 1.0

Westport, Lakeland, and Mt. Winans Recycles
3-Month Pilot Program

In October 2017 we started an incentivized recycling pilot program in Westport, Mt Winans and Lakeland. The purposes of this program was to

  1. Demonstrate that a funded educational program is effective in increasing recycling rates and,
  2. Increase the need for local recycling infrastructure to support building a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF or “recycling plant”) in Baltimore City.


In 2016, Baltimore City gave every home a massive, green trash can for free, but continued charging for its recycling bins – $15 for the largest yellow bin and lid. These bins are about 33% the size of the green trash cans.

Image result for baltimore city municipal trash can

This runs against the idea of building a more sustainable Baltimore because not only does charging for bins keep some families from access to recycling, the visual comparison says “most of what you throw away is trash!” But this is far from the truth, as over 70% of what we put in those trash cans is recyclable.

So last summer, Energy Justice Network received funding from the local Abell Foundation to begin an innovative pilot based on providing access to recycling bins and education about the importance of recycling versus incineration and landfilling. This first pilot contained a personal incentive instead of the community incentive the program will have down the road.

Image result for cartoon kid recycling

We recruited nearly 100 homes of Westport, Mt. Winans, and Lakeland (Westport) for the 12-week pilot. We also hired five residents, known as Block Captains, to collect the data. In the first month, the Block Captains would weigh trash cans to get an average of how much trash each home produced weekly. At the end of Month 1, we held two workshops on the history of Wheelabrator, its dangerous health impacts, and our solutions for a better future. (This information was also provided to Block Captains before the program began.) We also distributed free, 44-gallon yellow recycling bins, about 70% the size of a green trash can, and brochures listing what is and isn’t recyclable. For the last eight weeks, Block Captains would weigh both trash and recycling bins the days before pickup.


By the close of the first pilot  in January 2018 our 95 participating households recycled nearly 4 tons of materials in 2 months, or about 10lbs. per household per week! Combined, their recycling rate was 26% higher than Baltimore’s residential recycling rate. If everyone in Baltimore recycled at this much weekly, the city would keep over 54,000 tons of plastics, glass, paper, and metals out of the incinerator in one year. If Baltimore provided the entire city with 25-gallon bins for free, that cost could be paid back in four years with this level of recycling!

Although the two workshops we held had the common level of turnout to most community events, those who did attend the workshops recycled 56% more per month than non-attendees. So, if everyone recycled at their rate, Baltimore City would recycle over 76,000 tons in one year! This shows that education can change behavior and help clean our air. And at this rate, the city could pay back the cost of free 25-gallon bins in about 2 years!

The top five homes by weight recycled received from $400 to $1,200 – two homes tied for fourth, so we gave them both $400!

Click here for a powerpoint about our results!

Next Steps

After the success of Westport Recycles, we are in the process of acquiring more funding to keep the personal incentive version program going in Westport, and to expand into neighborhoods nearby like Cherry Hill, and further away from the incinerator like Park Heights. Once these have been completed, we wish to shift to a collaboration with Baltimore City, providing bins for free to a given community and setting a target recycling rate. If the community does better than that rate, it will be rewarded with funds that would’ve been used to burn their trash. That fund can be used how ever the community sees fit – more greenspace, more streetlights, fixed potholes, et cetera. It’s trash to treasure!

Image result for saving money through recycling cartoon

Once the program is citywide by 2020, the need to keep Wheelabrator around for much longer will continue to decrease. This increase in materials no longer being burned also increases the demand to build recycling and composting facilities throughout the city. What does that mean for Baltimore? Cleaner air and more jobs!