BALTIMORE, Maryland – “I can’t get rid of the smell,” said Joanne K. Smith, a retiree living in the suburbs of Baltimore, which recycles a third of its household items, and has been one of the city’s leaders in recycling.
“We need a lot of help to get it back to normal.”
Smith has been recycling her old tires and old clothing since she moved to the city from New York in 2007.
The city’s recycling program has been a model for many states, with more than 50 recycling sites across the country.
But, according to the American Waste Management Association, only 13 states have achieved recycling rates higher than the city, which has an average recycling rate of only about 30 percent.
“I can get rid for a week or so of a car, but that’s not enough,” said Smith, adding that her recycling bins often get empty and she has to buy more than one item to keep them up to date.
“I think that we should be looking at a lot more recycling,” said a woman who declined to give her name, as the city is under investigation for using the city-owned recycling bin as a dumping ground for hazardous waste.
In Maryland, most recycling facilities are owned by the city.
That means the government has the power to shut down facilities and evict residents who refuse to clean their bins.
“This is the only way I know to get rid, because of the garbage disposal ordinance, to get my garbage out,” said one resident of an apartment complex that has had its recycling bin for a year.
The owner of the apartment complex said the city had not asked for the bin to be closed, and she believes that the city will shut down all of the other recycling facilities in the complex if the residents don’t comply.
“The city has been very good to me and to the neighbors in terms of getting things done,” said the resident, who asked to remain anonymous.
“It’s really not that hard to get things done.”
But some residents have taken to social media to complain about the city using their trash to sell to recycling facilities.
“What happens when the city comes after us?
Do we just walk out, shut the trash down and leave?” wrote one resident on Twitter.”
They have to put the garbage out in the garbage to make the city go away, not to make money for a company that is destroying our property,” another resident wrote.”
We are not trying to make a profit.
We are trying to get this garbage out so we can get it into a safe, usable place where it can be used,” said another resident.
But, in an interview with Al Jazeera, a spokesman for the city said that they do not sell garbage in the city bin, but it is not the city of Baltimore’s role to dispose of trash.
“Our recycling program is designed to be used for household use,” said Joseph D. Mireles.
“The recycling bins have to be returned to the owner when they are not being used.
The recycling bins were not designed for this use.”
Mireles said that in the future, recycling facilities will be able to use waste materials collected from the city and other public places to build new buildings, rather than waste from businesses.
“Our plan is to create a recycling industry that is going to create jobs,” he said.
But the city did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.
The American Waste Council says that Baltimore is one of only five cities in the US that does not have a garbage compactor, which can send the garbage back to the landfill, but is not legally required to.
The council estimates that if all the city bins were returned, the city would save nearly $1.5 billion in waste disposal costs each year.
The city’s garbage compactors, which are used to store garbage and other materials in an environmentally-friendly way, can cost $50,000 to $75,000, said Jennifer C. Williams, the council’s senior vice president for programs and policy.
The Baltimore City Waste Management Authority, which manages the citys recycling bins, does not make a distinction between recycling and trash, Mirees said.
“There are only three categories of items that we recycle: recyclable items, non-recyclable items and hazardous materials,” he told Al Jazeera.
The mayor’s office did not reply to Aljazeera’s requests to explain how the city has managed to recycle less than a third.