Blair building services workers have been breaking county regulations by discarding the majority of the recyclables collected in the school along with the trash. Building services workers contended that their contract does not obligate them to recycle and that students must transport the recycling to avoid overburdening the staff.
Until last week, student aides in the media center and department offices facilitated the only recycling in the building, according to media specialist Lisa Hack, who is co-captaining the recycling effort with media specialist Andrea Lamphier. Meanwhile, the material placed in the school recycling bins that student aides do not empty has been mixed with trash and placed into the dumpster by building services workers. "The custodians don't do recycling because it's not in their job description," said Business Manager Laurie Checco. "If students aren't recycling, it's not getting done."
A cooperative effort
According to Dianne Jones, MCPS director of school plant operations, the improper disposal of recyclables is not permissible. "That is absolutely not acceptable," she said. "If there weren't students there to [recycle], then building services certainly could've stepped up to make sure it got done." She added that even though recycling is not specifically mentioned in building services workers' contracts, it is a job that needs to get done nonetheless for the school to operate within county regulations.
While Blair has failed to perform in accordance with this policy thus far, Jones noted that many county schools combine student and building services efforts, a practice that is especially important in Blair because of the school's exceptionally large enrollment and building size.
Reginald Tobin, Blair plant equipment operator, suggested that Blair's size makes it nearly impossible for building services to recycle. "We shouldn't have to be held responsible for the recycling," he said. "With only 20 building services workers, it's hard to do the recycling for the entire school. With more than 3,100 students working on it, the program works much better. If students have pride in their school and in mother earth, then they will do the recycling themselves."
The county recycling inspector, who evaluated the school last December, agreed, saying that at a large school like Blair, students and staff must work cooperatively to effectively recycle. "The recycling program at [Blair] must be re-started and re-energized by a true green team to inspire school-wide support," he wrote in an overall evaluation, in which he gave Blair's recycling program a "D+."
According to MCPS Environmental Safety Coordinator Lynne Zarate, both Montgomery County regulations and MCPS policies require functional recycling programs in all public schools. MCPS workers measure the mass of recyclables generated by a school every month. They compare that monthly tonnage of recyclables to both the amounts of recyclables historically collected and the expected amounts of recyclables. Zarate said that MCPS staff could conduct an investigation and make recommendations for corrective action to the school administration if these regulations are not being followed.
Jones also said that the county could fine schools that repeatedly fail to recycle. However, schools usually receive suggestions for improvement if they do not adequately recycle.
Getting back on track
Certain steps have been taken to improve the immediate situation regarding recycling at Blair, said senior Emily May, a student involved in the recycling program. Last week, several classes of Communication Arts Program teacher John Goldman's students performed a single full-school recycling collection to prevent the bins from being emptied into the dumpster. Goldman said that these collections will not be completed on an ongoing basis and that he was simply trying to help out the Blair recycling effort while it was still being organized.
In addition to these efforts, the Blair committee to manage recycling, headed by Hack and Lamphier, is implementing more permanent plans to improve the situation. According to Hack, the primary objective is to incorporate students in Connections classes by giving them adequate training and class time to address the issue. Students remove recycled products from plastic recycling bins and transport them to the loading docks, where a larger receptacle is located. English teacher Carole Tomayko, who spearheaded the effort last year and plans to involve her Connections students in recycling again this year, began training her Connections classes on recycling last month. Students were taught how to judge the cleanliness of recycling in a bin, where to get the carts to transport recycling to the loading dock and how to behave in classrooms while collecting the recycling.
Hack said that other plans for improving the Blair recycling program involve ordering tops for tall blue recycling bins to prevent mixing of different recyclable items. According to May, 17 of these tops have been ordered from the county, and they may be used as templates for Connections students to create covers for the rest of the bins, reducing expenses. Hack also hopes to receive labels that inform students of the proper materials to deposit in the recycling bins from the county. A lack of posters and labeling was one of the major reasons for Blair's poor grades in previous county evaluations; Blair scored a zero in the past two county evaluations.
Knowledge is power
Hack and the recycling committee also plan to initiate an educational drive to make students aware of the recycling program. May has helped prepare educational material, working to produce public service announcements for InfoFlow and creating the groundwork for a Blair Recycling Week. May hopes to have the educational drive in place by winter break.
Though Blair's recycling initiative started late this year due to changes in program leadership and new Connections classes, Tomayko remains hopeful about improving the starting time of the program in future years thanks to a more experienced staff. Next year, there will be six Connections teachers with recycling program experience, up from one this year.
John Silberholz. The Chips PRODMAN (and editoral board member), John enjoys basketball, tennis and biking, looks forward to yet another year on Chips. Among other things, he enjoys climbing trees (even though he has a weird tendancy of falling off of them), biking like crazy, playing basketball, … More »