Contamination of recyclables remains a problem
Recycling at Blair has always been difficult because of its large faculty and student body, but over the years, the process has improved. The main issue now is to bring awareness to what can and cannot be recycled so there is less contamination of the blue bins.
What's the issue?
U.S. History teacher and avid recycler George Vlasits says there are two problems with recycling in Blair: "contamination of the recycled products [and] getting people to recycle." He further explains that the two are directly related to one another. "They're connected because if you're not aware of [recycling], you're more likely to contaminate."
Both he and Business Manager Anne Alban note that co-mingling of recyclables and trash is the main concern. Can and bottle recycling has improved because Building Services has placed recycling bins next to nearly all of the trashcans in the hallways. However, students and staff still manage to confuse the two and discard garbage in the blue bins.
In an email sent on August 22, Vlasits, who is a co-sponsor of Blair's student and teacher-run Recycling Committee, asked for the staff's cooperation in reducing the amount of recyclable items in trashcans and in increasing awareness of recycling. He encouraged them to talk to their classes throughout the year about the importance of recycling in school. "If the teachers are more conscientious so will the students," says Vlasits. He adds teachers should be reminded of the recycling do's and don'ts during the teacher meetings.
The only items to be recycled in the rectangular, blue bins are newspapers, catalogs, paperback books, boxes not contaminated with food, newspaper inserts, cardboard, telephone books, magazines, unwanted mail, computer and office paper and all other clean and dry paper. Plastic, metal and glass cans and bottles must be recycled in the round, blue containers.
Items that cannot be recycled include Styrofoam, plastic, food soiled paper (gum wrappers, pizza boxes, etc), paper or cardboard contaminated with paint and/or chemicals, carbon paper, paper towels, tissues and napkins.
Where's the problem?
Vlasits says there are "different problems in different places" of the building. The Media Center has been recycling the appropriate materials routinely probably due to the "no food and drink" policy. Vlasits thinks the "classrooms are the biggest problems right now." Teachers may not always enforce recycling, so students throw bottles and tissues in the explicitly labeled "Paper Only" blue recycling bins.
Vlasits explains that 99 percent of greenhouse gases and oil caused by the production of new aluminum products could be avoided by recycling, which in turn would lower the U.S.'s dependence on oil and electricity. "So when I see a can in the trash, it's like a knife has been stuck into me," he says grimacing. "If we don't recycle, we'll end up living in a large garbage pile. Simple."
Alban also emphasizes the negative effects on the natural environment. "No matter what the resources, they're not endless," she says. "We have a lot of resources at our disposal, but if we don't use them wisely, they'll end. Nothing lasts forever." Alban pauses, then laughs, gesturing at the McDonald's food and wrappers on the kitchen table in the staff room. "Look at the plastic we have here. It's scary to think what the world will be like in 100 years," she ponders.
Montgomery County is committed to recycling by establishing and developing community goals and strategies. According to Vlasits, Montgomery County Councilman Tom Perez said that schools are the worst offenders so awareness must start there. "Recycling is a habit people get into and then take with them for the rest of their lives," reflects Vlasits. "Education will spread to the community. If a student becomes a recycler, then maybe they'll be more likely to recycle at home."
What is Blair's history with recycling?
Blair is "probably a lot better than other schools, especially given our size," says Vlasits, who has been teaching at Blair for 13 years. "In the year and a half I've been active in the Recycling Committee, the situation has gotten a lot better, but we're still a long way from 'good.'"
Alban, who has been a driving force in recycling efforts at Blair, agrees; the school has improved "about 150 percent" in her three years of experience. When Alban first arrived here, she was most concerned with coordinating such a large task within a building of more than 3,000 students and staff. "What I found was there was a lot of enthusiasm but not enough consistent organization," she recalls.
However, over the years, she has helped create the Recycling Committee to bring awareness of the issue. The Committee tries to reach out through student communication means such as Info-Flow and Silver Chips. Alban wants to expand past strategies by possibly contacting the President of the PTSA, hanging attractive visuals around the building, and increasing education and clarification so teachers can share the information with their classes.
How can students get involved?
Helping the environment starts with awareness of what can be recycled. From there, individuals must share their knowledge to the community. "If a critical mass begins something [like recycling]," says Vlasits, "then others will follow."
If you are interested in learning more about recycling or if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, you can contact Susan Alban in the Main Office or by phone (301-649-2825). You could also speak with Building Services Manager James Brown or call him at 301-649-2826.
For more information about recycling in Montgomery County, go here.
Allison Elvove. Allison Elvove was a Co-Editor-in-Chief of Silver Chips Online during the 2004-2005 school year. She wrote more than 70 articles while on the staff and supervised 40 student journalists, editing articles on a daily basis. During her time as editor, Silver Chips Online won the … More »