With 900,000 residents and about 172,000 single-family households across 500 square miles, Prince George’s County reportedly processes more than 40,000 tons of recyclables at its materials recovery facility in Capitol Heights.
In 2015, the county recorded a 59.6 percent recycling rate, a figure that included glass, metals, paper, plastic, compost and other miscellaneous materials but did not include construction and demolition or land-clearing debris, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Much of its recycling success has to do with the county’s single-stream office recycling program that launched in 2011 and began collecting material from its more than 80 office buildings.
Reportedly, that led to more than 265 tons of diverted office materials in 2015.
“Single-stream recycling — mixing recyclables in one collection container — makes it easy and convenient for residents to recycle because there’s no need to ‘sort’ items by type of material. Everything can go into one recycling collection receptacle,” said Adam Ortiz, the county’s director for the Department of the Environment.
Ortiz said when Prince George’s County converted from a dual-stream recycling program — where paper and cardboard had to be separated and collected separately — to a single-stream recycling program, residents received larger-sized, 64-gallon recycling collection carts.
“That has resulted in an 11 percent participation increase, meaning 11 percent more residential households started to recycle,” Ortiz said. “And, it’s resulted in an overall 51 percent curbside recycling increase, meaning that residential recycling tonnages increased by 51 percent.”
Officials have discovered unacceptable materials — or contaminants—like plastic bags and plastic stretch film, included in the single-stream recycling.
Plastic bags and plastic film are recyclable if collected separately at most grocery or retail stores, Ortiz said.
Other contaminants found in single-stream recycling have included candy wrappers and chip bags; batteries — which are particularly dangerous to the facility and workers; Styrofoam; food and food-soiled containers like paper plates; garden hoses; child car seats and bulky or rigid plastics like large toys, toilet seats, and plastic furniture.
“Rigid plastics can be recycled separately at one of the county’s residential drop-off convenience centers,” Ortiz said.
Recycling is very important to the environment and economically makes sense, Ortiz said.
“Anytime you can recycle an item to produce a new item, energy and natural resources are conserved or saved. Markets [the sale of recyclables] fluctuate, and with tighter policies on the cleanliness of the recycling stream, it is important residents, and the general public which recycling items are acceptable within the program,” Ortiz said. “We want to keep unacceptable materials out of the recycling collection receptacles so residents should remember that ‘when in doubt, keep it out.”