New study: Maryland recycling programs experiencing mixed results

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Kate Breimann

Report shows successes, pitfalls and opportunities in statewide recycling

Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center

BALTIMORE — Maryland is doing relatively well in its recycling and composting efforts, but it is still underperforming in some areas and is overly dependent on burning trash, according to a new study from Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center. State of Recycling in Maryland highlights how structural challenges, the rise of plastic, effects of failing to recycle, the impact of trash burning, and trends in the state’s waste system.

The report reflects on how reliance on East Asian export markets, which are no longer reliably taking American waste, have impacted some statewide programs. It also shows that this is only part of the problem.

“The reality is plastics are so hard to recycle and so low value that we could only consistently afford to collect and recycle it when China was willing to buy it.” said Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center’s Advocate Kate Breimann. “Now that we are left to deal with it ourselves, plastic is choking our recycling system as effectively as it chokes ocean life.”

The report outlines how Maryland has increasingly improved the percentage of waste it’s composting and recycling. But, at the same time, the state is burning a disproportionate amount of trash. The report delves into how this trash incineration is detrimental to the environment and public health.

Along with assessing state data, the report presents wide-ranging reforms necessary to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or is burned every year. Policies include cutting back on the amount of unnecessary plastic waste being created, encouraging the reuse of already existing objects, and making sure that products are recycled at the end of their working life.

“It’s entirely within our power to fix the system, but what is missing is the necessary sense of urgency,” said U.S. PIRG Zero Waste Education Fund Director Alex Truelove, who co-authored the report. “Recycling, composting and waste reduction efforts will need to play an important role in the fight against microplastic pollution, climate change and other environmental challenges.”


The Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting Maryland’s air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decisionmakers, and help Marylanders make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives.