One of the questions I am most often asked is "Why must I separate my recyclables for collection?" The answer has to do with the way our Recycling Center, or Materials Recycling Facility (MRF), is designed. The MRF is where all the recyclables are sorted by material type and processed for market.
Our customers are asked to separate materials into two containers, and our collection trucks are separated into two compartments because the MRF is divided into two sections.
The Montgomery County MRF has two separate sorting lines: one for paper products (including cardboard), and the other for commingled items (bottles, cans, jars, and containers). When the recycling collection truck enters the MRF, the paper side of the truck is emptied in one area, and the commingled in another.
The two "streams" of material are processed separately. When the commingled materials travel through the series of conveyors in the MRF, the glass, plastic, aluminum and steel items are further separated from each other. After this final separation, each material is prepared separately (most are baled) and shipped to market.
This dual stream system results in cleaner bales of material, which are easier to market. These bales bring in a higher value, enabling the MRF to cover its operating costs.
Most weekends find Division of Solid Waste Services staff and volunteers at community fairs, festivals, and other happenings. These events give us great opportunities to bring you our displays, to give you literature and other goodies and to answer your questions about waste reduction, recycling and trash disposal.
We teach at these events, and we also learn. We get to hear about the interesting and inspiring things you and your families are accomplishing!
Last Saturday, a colleague represented our Division at Bethesda Green’s “Green Home Expo”. In chatting with an Expo visitor, she learned about Kate. Kate is a local middle school student… and a filmmaker.
When an English class assignment tasked her with reporting on her experiences about a community project, Kate focused on recycling. She wanted to show her class the importance of recycling, and the consequences of not recycling. To accomplish this, she set to work on a video, scripting, filming, and adding voiceovers and music.
Her research took her to our Recycling Center, where she filmed video segments of the Tour Room and the sorting process. She was surprised to see how many workers manually sorted recyclables passing by on swift conveyer belts. In an email interview, her mother reflected that “Kate learned that recycling at the Montgomery County Recycling Center -- with all its mechanical parts and quick hands -- is very complicated. She also learned that our role in everyday life is simple -- just put recyclable items into the right bins.
Beyond the classroom, Kate also showed the video to her church community. She didn't stop there, however. She also organized a recycling drop-off event for her church!
How can your workplace conserve energy? For the final installment in our Earth Month 2011 series, here's an example from a local certified Green Business:
Goodwill Industries International, in Rockville, MD, decreased its energy use by 17.5% while it increased its staff by 34%. Energy-saving changes included:
installing energy-efficient overhead lighting, occupancy sensors, shades in the southern-facing windows, photocell sensors and automated off-hours temperature controls
posting signs encouraging staff to turn off lights.
reducing emergency lighting
removing additional lights in over-lit areas.
Purchasing 100% wind power RECs (renewable energy certificates) resulted in the avoidance of an estimated 1.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year, as well as estimated savings of over $8,000 annually.
Goodwill's headquarters became a certified Green Business with the County in January 2011.
Learn more about the Montgomery County Green Business Certification Program, and check out the list of already-certified businesses: www.mcgreenbiz.org
Use a Kill A Watt meter to check your appliances' and gadgets' energy use and begin your own home or office energy audit. Borrow a meter at
Did you know that the Shady Grove Processing Facility and Transfer Station is now home to an array of 1,248 solar panels? The 280 kilowatt system went live last month. It will produce about 30 percent of the facility's energy needs. And, during the 20-year project, the panels are anticipated to produce 6 million kilowatt-hours, or enough energy to power 590 average American homes for one year.
Because the building's roof is flat, you can't see the array from the ground. We've taken a camera up to bring you close-up views of the project. From your computer, you can also look at how much energy the system is producing (and when our location experienced clouds or overcast skies!).
Posted as part of our Earth Month 2011 "GoGreen News and Tips" series...
In preparation for Earth Month, we asked for your questions about our work. An email from resident G. inspired this "by the numbers" look at our recycling and trash collection operations:
"How many trash & recycle (separately) trucks are there and how many employees do this amazing work?"
Our contractors send out 107 trucks on each collection day:
52 recycling trucks
27 trash trucks
24 yard trim trucks
4 scrap metal recycling trucks
Each truck has 2 people on it, so there are 214 crew members: 107 drivers and 107 helpers. In addition, there are 15 contractor supervisors and 11 County Inspectors out "in the field" with the crews.
Together, they have the opportunity to make over half a million pickups each week. (Even though not every home puts out every type of eligible material on a given collection day, it still needs to be checked):
Requests for bulk trash and scrap metal recycling pickups, and for new recycling bins are consistently in the top ten service categories for calls coming in to the County's MC311 Customer Service Center.
The error rate across all of our pickup types is remarkably low: about 10 missed collections are reported per week. Our two most important tips:
Have your recyclables and/or trash out at the curb by 7:00 a.m. on your collection day.
When you set out yard trim in trash cans, use our green yard trim decals, and have the decals facing the street for the crews to see.
G. also wrote:
"I'd love a tour and I know my kids would enjoy it as well."
Great! We'd love to see you, too, either virtually or in person:
The Oaks Landfill in Laytonsville, MD, received about 7 million tons of trash during its 15 years of operation. It closed in 1997. Today, the landfill is a favorite destination for… birders!
The site’s nearly 545 acres of diverse habitat, with its two large storm water ponds, make it attractive to a variety of birds. Birdwatchers love to come out for the chance to spot rare birds, especially during the spring and fall migration periods. It’s not uncommon for them to find new birds to add to their “Life List” of all the species they have ever seen. See some of the birds spotted by participants on a walk this past winter.
While there are trees on the site, you won’t find any growing on the areas used to store waste. When the landfill was closed, it was carefully “capped” with layers of soil and geomembrane. The cap keeps trash in and surface water out. The lush brush layer which has developed on it is good bird habitat. Because their roots can cause problems, trees are removed if they start growing over the cap area.
Unfortunately, invasive plants have found their way to the Oaks, too. With their arrival, the numbers of bird species have decreased. Volunteers are helping us to keep these plants in check. They are also our partners in studying relationships between bird diversity and habitat.
What happens to a landfill when it closes? For the Oaks Landfill in Laytonsville, MD, the answer is that part of the property has become the Blue Nash Nature Trail, with opportunities for hiking and shared-use.
The Montgomery County Department of Parks designates Blue Mash as a "great birdwatching spot" in its Great Green Getaways. This trail is a favored destination during the spring and fall migration periods, but has lots to see at any time of the year.
Grab a (reusable) water bottle and some comfortable shoes, and discover how "trash to treasure" applies to the Oaks Landfill!
What happens next? Call us at 240-777-6410 Montgomery County's Customer Service Center at 3-1-1 (out-of-County: 240-777-0311, TTY: 240-773-3556) for a repair. Our Customer Service staff will schedule a Friday appointment with you.
If we receive your request before 2 p.m. on Thursday, we can add you to our list for that week. Otherwise, we'll give you an appointment for Friday of the next week.
What’s special about carts and Fridays? It’s our cart repair day! If the problem(s) can be fixed, we’ll do that. And, if the cart is beyond repair, we’ll give you a replacement.
We ask you to set your cart at the curb empty. This allows our staff to work on your cart easily. A full cart can weigh over 200 pounds, which is why recycling collection vehicles have a mechanical lift to empty them. Our cart-repairers do not have lifts or the truck they would need to transport any paper they took with them.
When arriving at your address, we first assess the “patient.” This cart has two problems. Can you spot them?
Photo credit: R. Birndorf
After the diagnosis, surgery begins!
Photo credit: R. Birndorf
First, the team gives the lid hinge a new pin.
Photo credit: R. Birndorf
The mechanical lift hooks on to the metal bar on the front of the cart. Remember how heavy those full carts can be? Sometimes, the lift bar simply starts to give. Here, it’s swapped out for a new, straight bar.
Photo credit: J. Buhl
Voila! This cart is good as new, ready to receive many more pounds of paper from its owners!
Normally, you set your recycling bins, paper carts, and trash cans at the curb for pickup.
But, what happens when your curb is buried under a layer -- or, as is currently the case, several feet -- of snow? Suddenly, the term "curbside" becomes relative...
Place your recyclables and trash as close to their regular location as possible. Look at your items through your collection crew's eyes: could you see your bins, carts, and cans from the vantage point of a truck driving along your street? If not, adjust the items' location so that your crew will be able to spot everything easily.
This week, my six-year-old helper and I headed out into our neighborhood with cameras in hand. As we walked around scouting for recyclables and trash, we had a great conversation about the recycling do's and don'ts we saw. (The most frequent offenders were plastic bags -- please remember to recycle these at your local grocery store, and not in your blue bins.)
Here are some photos of three different post-snow recycling bin and cart placement approaches we saw. Sorry, the trash had already been collected, so there were no cans for us to photograph.
This resident shoveled out a little niche in a curbside snowbank. It was perfectly sized to fit the two plastic containers. The container for "overflow" recyclables on the right was neatly labeled, in big letters, with "Recycle".
This blue bin and paper recycling cart were carefully placed in front of a big snow bank, away from parked cars which might have hidden them.
Here, a snow bank was used to creative advantage. This resident perched a recycling bin on top of the snow edging his or her driveway. The bin had just enough snow packed around it to keep it in place, but not enough to obscure it from view.
To run a normal collection schedule or not to run a normal collection schedule? That is the question!
What goes into our recycling and trash collection status decision when winter weather hits? The process begins at 4 a.m., when we send out two or three of our field staff as scouts. Their task is to drive around in their assigned area to check road conditions: how safe is it for big collection vehicles to be passing though neighborhood streets? On a normal day, we have about 100 trucks out and about.
Meanwhile, one of our Collections program managers is on his way into the office, taking a more roundabout route than usual so that he, too, can check on neighborhood streets. The scouts call in to the manager to share their findings. Together, the team develops a recommendation for that day’s collection service. What elements of our service will we be able to provide? Do we include yard trim collection, or suspend it for the day? Canceling yard trim pickups means 20 fewer trucks, and frees up those workers to supplement the recycling and trash crews.
By now, it’s approximately 5 a.m.
A new round of phone calls begins. Our manager contacts our contracted trash and recycling collection companies to find out what they think about the day’s weather with respect to providing pickup service, and to discuss the County’s recommendation. Because the companies’ managers have been on the road themselves, they are able to provide additional data points. In addition to road conditions, the County and company managers also consider the collection crew workers’ ability to get in to work.
Following these discussions, our program manager calls our Collections section chief for a final decision. Then, we activate our notification system for you! The program manager makes two more contacts: he emails the County’s Public Information Office, and he calls me.
The Montgomery County Agricultural Fair ended on Saturday, and we've packed our tents, tables, and supplies up for the next event. Here's a short retrospective of our nine days there.
The sign taped to the bus next to our booth was one you don't see every day: “Path MUST be kept cleared – cakes coming thru!” On the Fair's opening Friday, easy passage to the Home Arts Building across the way from us was critical for bakers bearing entries for the cake competition! (Did you have a chance to check out the winners? They looked scrumptious!)
Our recycling tatoos, with a reminder to "Recycle Every Day!", were popular with the younger set. Our teen volunteers enthusiastically offered their application services for on-the-spot tatooing!
Our display of things we accept in our curbside recycling program was a great conversation starter! Thanks for the interesting chats we had about what to put into your blue bins, and... what to keep out. (And about that child's hand holding a yo-yo string... It's a bonus addition to this photo, but a nice opportunity to note that the yo-yos we gave out as prizes were made from recycled content!)
Here's Ana, our tireless Recycling Volunteer Program Manager, who kept track of our staff and volunteer schedule to make sure that our booth was attended at all times, replenished supplies as we ran out, and cheerfully boosted spirits on those hot, humid afternoons.
If you missed us at the Fair, maybe we'll cross paths at one of our upcoming Fall events. Our staff and volunteers look forward to meeting you!
In today's Biological Monitoring for MoCo post, learn about some of the 53 items that aquatic biologists in the Department take with them to help keep tabs on habitat conditions, water chemistry, and critters large and small in our local streams.
What does weather data have to do with turning leaves and grass into compost, and trash into electricity at our facilities? While knowing if you should grab an umbrella or an extra layer of clothing for the day is a handy side benefit, having a record of the weather at our specific location helps us operate more efficiently.
Each weekday, and on Saturdays when we have a "slide" due to a holiday, we have field staff out in your neighborhoods. Their contacts with collection crews and residents, and their own observations as they drive through their assigned areas, help us monitor the recycling and trash materials set out for collection, and the collection service itself.
Last week, the field staff supervisor sent me this note:
Construction Debris: The crews are finding a lot of this in plastic bags. Nails and other sharp objects are cutting the plastic and either creating litter during collection attempts or potentially injuring the collector.
The remedy is to put your construction debris into trash cans when you set this material out for curbside collection. For reference, I have added this information to our trash service details webpage.
Thank you for helping to keep our collection crews -- and yourself! -- safe, and your neighborhood clean of potential litter, when you prepare your construction debris for pickup.
Our news this summer about being about to recycle more plastics has recycling at the fore in many of your households! One result is that you are requesting lots of blue bins to hold and set out your recyclables for collection.
To help us fill your bin orders, we just received a shipment of 4,000 bins. (That's about 3 parking spaces full.) At the current order rate, this shipment will keep us supplied for about two months.
Do you need a new recycling bin for your single-family home? (We have bins for offices and apartments/condos, also.)
A dispatch from one of our Solid Waste Transfer Station inspectors:
This morning, Saturday, March 8, 2008, around 10:30 a.m., I received a call on the radio from the car ramp [the trash bays in the public unloading area]. A citizen reported hearing a cat meowing in the number 13 trailer. We had the trailer pulled to the tipping floor [inside the Transfer Station building] and [our contractor's employee and supervisor] climbed in and emptied most of this trailer by hand.
[Searching the trailer]
[The search continued, with the trash now on the Transfer Station floor.]
They searched through the trash for about 35 minutes without finding a cat. With most hope gone at this point, the car ramp called to us and reported that the cat was still meowing near trailer bay 13. We went back to the trailer area but to no avail -- no cat was found.
We all went back to work, feeling that the cat was lost. Then around 1:00 p.m., [the employee] called me back to the [public unloading] area. To my surprise, there he stood, with a kitten in his hands. He didn’t give up and kept looking and found the kitten hidden in the trailer bay. He has volunteered to give the kitten a home.
Update from March 11: the kitten has been named Lucky, and is doing well in its new home!