Baltimore will spend up to $7 million to provide curbside recycling collection for the first time in nearly five months next week with the help of five contractors, city officials announced Wednesday.
Recycling pickup has been suspended since August due to the coronavirus pandemic, which sickened numerous city employees and forced Baltimore officials to reassign remaining workers just to get trash collected.
To restart recycling collection beginning Tuesday, Baltimore will contract for a year with two small haulers, as well as with three workforce development groups that will put city residents to work with the aim of eventually getting them hired as government employees. The groups providing staffing for the effort are the Living Classrooms Foundation, Roca and Lazarus Rite.
Baltimore already is using two other contractors — Goode Companies Inc. and Spindler Refuse Service Inc. — to assist with trash collection during the pandemic at a cost of about $1.2 million.
The city also executed an emergency contract in December to buy routing software to offer turn-by-turn directions to truck drivers, allowing employees or contractors unfamiliar with a particular route to step in. That system, known as Rubicon, cost nearly $792,000.
Acting Public Works Director Matthew Garbark said Tuesday the five new contractors will provide 124 employees collectively. While the project is capped at $7 million, he said he doesn’t expect it to “come anywhere near that” cost.
Christopher Shorter, Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott’s nominee for city administrator, said some costs will be offset by savings, due to vacant city positions.
“We are going to do whatever we need to maintain this service,” said
Scott and other city officials touted the recycling restart as an opportunity to put city residents to work during a news conference Wednesday at a municipal recycling center on Sisson Street. Shorter noted that more than 90% of the city’s solid waste employees are city residents.
“It means a lot to say that it is our neighbors that are picking up the trash, that are dealing with our recycling service, and we should be proud of that,” Shorter said.
Scott said the groups partnering with the city on the recycling effort work with ex-offenders to help them find steady employment.
“We often hear about lack of opportunity for people who may need to change their life,” he said Tuesday in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.
Officials pleaded Wednesday with residents to be patient as curbside recycling service resumes because they expect residents to have substantial backlogs of recyclable material. They encouraged people to bring materials this week to community collection centers to help prevent delays for crews starting routes next week. However, there is no limit on the amount of recyclables that can be put on the curb when collection resumes.
Community collection centers, established when recycling was suspended, will remain open through February, officials said. Hours will be reduced beginning Jan. 20; at that point, centers will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Recycling pickup was suspended in August to allow city crews to focus on collecting trash, which increased in volume by up to 20% as people stayed home during the pandemic. Additionally, numerous employees in the department were struck by the coronavirus or forced to quarantine as a result of co-workers getting sick. At times last summer, up to 30 people were absent from a pool of more than 200 employees.