A higher bar in Montgomery’s recycling program -- Gazette.Net


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Clamshells, and more, are in.

Those rigid, clear plastic containers that hold raspberries, strawberries, takeout salads and other perishables can now be tossed in the county’s blue recycling bins.

It’s the latest milestone in the county’s recycling program, which is getting even more ambitious after the county executive raised the goal on how much of the county’s trash — or “waste stream” in industry-speak — should be recycled by 2020.

The county has received an industry grant to develop a model to process the clamshells and more containers made of a durable plastic known at PET or PETE, for polyethylene terephthalate. The material is commonly used in plastic water and soda bottles, which have been recycled for years, and the growth in the reprocessing market for clamshells and other PET No. 1 plastics is substantial. PET is the world’s most recycled plastic and can be turned into products from carpet to fluffy fiber for winter coats, according to an industry association. Because it’s so durable, it has critics who say it presents environmental-damage dangers.

Montgomery County has long been committed to an aggressive recycling program, setting a goal decades ago to recycle half of its waste. Now, County Executive Isiah Leggett wants the county to achieve a 70 percent recycling rate by 2020, matching that of eco-friendly Seattle.

A number of businesses are already meeting the higher level. During the county’s springtime recycling awards program, the defense and professional services giant Lockheed Martin Corp. was saluted for a program that recycled 90 percent of the waste at its Bethesda headquarters last year. Ten other companies that had sustained recycling programs also were honored, proving a higher recycling rate is possible. (For residents, the county has one of the simplest programs around. Paper goes in one curbside container and glass, metal and plastic containers can be mixed in another.)

Montgomery, which years ago was derided for aggressive “trash police” inspectors and burdensome paperwork and reporting requirements, has made great strides in its recycling programs, education and outreach and has one of the highest participation rates in the country.

By avoiding bureaucratic overreach and simplifying the process for residents and businesses, as it did with the ubiquitous clamshell, the county will remain a recycling leader.