Recycling isn’t making money for Anne Arundel, but it’s cheaper than trash


In good years, Anne Arundel County brings in a couple million dollars selling residents’ recycled materials but after limits were imposed on shipping certain recyclables to China, it isn’t making money from the program any more, a county official said Friday.

The county uses the money to keep the county’s waste collection fee at $298-a-year, the rate it’s been since 2012, according to Rich Bowen, county recycling manager. The county got about $250,000 through the sale of recyclables in fiscal 2018, Bowen said.

Residents put their recycling out or drop it off at a county facility. From there, it goes to the Waste Management Recycle America facility in Elkridge. Waste Management processes, bundles and sells it, both domestically and overseas, Bowen said. He said Waste Management has found other buyers, such as companies in Southeast Asia or Europe, to ship some of the material that used to go to China, but an abundance of recyclables has caused the market price to drop.

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Recycling the materials is still less expensive, even without the revenue — and better for the environment, Bowen said. While the county pays $45 a ton to process waste, it pays $12.50 a ton to process recyclables.

“It’s the better economic choice and the better environmental choice as well,” he said. “You don’t want to dispose of something that has life.”

Revenue isn’t the program’s main goal. The main goal is to conserve natural resources, he said.

Director of the state’s Land and Materials Division Hilary Miller said other counties around the state have faced the same challenge of reduced market value for recycled materials — some use private processors and some try to process and sell the recyclables themselves.

While the market is challenging right now there have also been domestic investments in the use of recycled materials, particularly paper, Miller said, and there are materials such as organic and food scrap recycling that weren’t affected. Food makes up 18 percent of the waste being thrown away, she said.

“Even though we’re having a challenge, it’s still a positive thing for the environment,” she said.

Miller said one way people can improve the economics of recycling is to learn what can be recycled, and what can’t. When people put the wrong kind of materials in the recycling bin, the county ends up being charged $45 a ton instead of $12.50, Bowen said. And the material then goes in the trash — so nothing is recycled, tarnished by the unacceptable materials, such as plastic bags.

That’s right, plastic bags. They’re recyclable, but not through curbside recycling. You can bring them to a county center or drop them off at a grocery store, Bowen said.

Clothing and textiles can’t be recycled at the curb, but can be brought to a county recycling center. Same for electronics. The county has a list on its website of what can and can’t be recycled.

And there’s one other bag that’s sure to get your recyclables thrown out — a trash bag. Bowen said they can’t tear trash bags open at the recycling facility, so the stuff goes in the trash. You should empty your kitchen bag into a container — they have some available with lids, he said, if you need one.

He said the county’s recycling efforts have been successful and that people are recycling more and more.

“Our volume we collect each month is growing,” he said.

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