The Baltimore City Department of Public Works, which oversees solid waste and single-stream recycling collections throughout the city, allowed a contract to lapse over the summer with the vendor tasked with repurposing discarded electronic devices, an agency spokesperson said.

It’s not clear what happened with the contract; department spokeswoman Jennifer Combs said in an email that the contract had “expired,” but declined to give a reason. She said the disruption would be temporary and that the department is looking to resolve the situation as soon as possible.

This isn’t the city’s first contract snafu: The Baltimore Police Department and the Department of Transportation also have allowed contracts to expire over the last few years, causing shortfalls of chemical reagents for DNA tests and metal poles for stop signs, speed hump alerts and other safety markers. Many have faulted the city’s overly complex procurement system as a liability.

Combs said public works crews are still accepting electronics at the city’s five residential drop-off centers, which are scattered throughout the city. But at least two residents looking to retire their electronics for good were turned away from city sanitation yards and instructed to toss their items in the trash due to the lapsed contract, they told The Baltimore Banner this week.

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Michael Saxon said he visited the Northwest Sanitation Yard on Sisson Street to drop off a dead uninterruptible power supply and was told the department hadn’t had a vendor for the last few months. And Chris Whitaker visited the same site this week with a broken television and was told by staff there that the city had not paid the vendor’s bill.

“The Bureau of Solid Waste has reminded drop-off center staff that the electronics acceptance policy has not changed,” Combs said in an email.

The city has a contract, valued at more than $2 million annually, with the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority for recycling services, according to city spending board records. It was extended from June 30, 2022, to June 30, 2023, but the extension was not officially approved by the city’s Board of Estimates until October 2022, records show. There are three optional extensions available.

Representatives from the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority did not immediately return a request for comment.

Per the agreement with the waste disposal authority, the public works department’s Bureau of Solid Waste collects recycling from households, businesses, government offices, schools and other city buildings as well as the residential drop-off centers. Then, the bureau transports the single-stream recycling to the authority’s materials recovery facility to sort, bale and sell the recyclables to vendors to turn into new products and uses.

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The Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority selects its vendors via public procurement, according to the spending board records.

In April, the authority approved an agenda item that awarded the electronic materials collection and reuse/recycling services award to three companies. The award covers eight jurisdictions: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Harford, Howard, and Montgomery counties as well as Baltimore City, according to meeting minutes from April 11.

Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority Executive Director Andrew Kays noted during the meeting that the master service agreement for electronics recycling would stand between the authority and the three companies, but the member jurisdictions would have to enter into individual “confirmations” with the vendors, too. It’s not clear that the city ever did.

Hallie Miller covers housing for The Baltimore Banner. She's previously covered city and regional services, business and health at both The Banner and The Baltimore Sun.

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