Baltimore officials still don’t know when weekly recycling will resume

Published on: August 18, 2022 6:00 AM EDT|Updated on: August 18, 2022 1:12 PM EDT

The dome of Baltimore City Hall on August 17, 2022.

Baltimore officials were not able to say when weekly recycling curbside pickup services will resume, citing low-staffed crews and growing amounts of recycling materials as obstacles at a Department of Public Works oversight hearing on Wednesday.

In January, after widespread complaints of irregular and missed recycling services, DPW leaders shifted weekly pickups to every other week. For the past eight months, crews have serviced northeast and northwest neighborhoods one week and southeast and southwest neighborhoods the next.

Yvonne Moore-Jackson — the acting head of the Bureau of Solid Waste — said that before the change, crews worked 16-hour shifts every day of the week to keep up. In June 2019, pickup crews collected 1,595 tons of recycling. In the fall of last year, the city distributed new, 65-gallon recycling carts to 190,000 households. That bolstered recycling participation, Moore-Jackson said: In June of this year, crews collected 2,149 tons — an increase of more than 35% from 2019.

The new carts take longer for crews to load and unload than the yellow bins the city previously used; now, routes take an average of 15 hours, compared to 10 hours before the carts distributed. Moore-Jackson said DPW must redesign the routes before weekly services can resume.

“We won’t be able to restart the recycling until we get route optimization: make the routes efficient, make the work load balanced so that we can make sure employees are working within their allotted times,” she said.

The agency is still struggling with staffing. DPW needs 67 drivers and 134 laborers in order to complete their current biweekly routes. On Wednesday, the agency had 47 drivers and 115 laborers available to work, Moore-Jackson said. Councilwoman Danielle McCray asked that DPW include staffing numbers in monthly oversight reports that the agency will begin submitting to the council in September.

Though other municipalities have struggled with retaining and recruiting workforces since the pandemic arrived, Baltimore’s neighboring counties are operating their recycling pickup services normally. Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer decried the city’s reduction of services, saying that the new carts wouldn’t take so long to load and unload if they were filled with one week’s worth of recycled materials instead of two weeks’ worth.

“The curbs are entirely filled with recycling. These employees have to go and bend over and pick up double the amount of stuff,” he said. “That’s why it’s taking longer, not necessarily because of these recycling carts.”

Read more: