- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry D. Weast and principals at most of the county's public high schools have failed students and taxpayers by recycling far less than they could, a student-run environmental group said yesterday.

Montgomery County Student Environmental Activists, a student affiliate of the Sierra Club, said the school system could have saved more than $232,000 during the last school year if it had recycled 50 percent of paper, plastics and other reusable waste. The county recycled 13.7 percent of those materials.

The students also said the school administration set a bad example for citizenship by not pursuing recycling more aggressively.

"It's the school system's job to educate its students the right way," said Yochanan Zakai, a 2001 graduate of Montgomery County public schools who did much of the research for the group's report.

County school officials acknowledged their recycling rate — which they say jumped during the first half of this year to 18 percent — falls far short of the countywide 37 percent recycling rate and the business rate of 29 percent.

But they say they are working to increase their rate: Each school is now required to have a recycling plan and monitor its performance.

And they say the student activists may not have done all their homework.

Savings the students projected are based on "tipping" fees charged for dumping garbage that could have been recycled, Montgomery County public schools facilities management Director Richard Hawes said.

The problem, Mr. Hawes said, is their projections do not consider extra hauling charges that accrue when the schools recycle more waste than the 10 percent factored into the current contract.

Savings the students claimed could have been made probably would have been greatly offset by added hauling costs, Mr. Hawes said, although he said he wasn't sure yet how much.

Two things are certain in the recycling debate, county and school officials agreed:

Recycling costs more than dumping.

And county leaders are not considering retreat on the 50 percent recycling goal they set 10 years ago, even though the county is still more than 12 percentage points from meeting that goal.

"It's been decided it's the right thing to do," said William Davidson, senior financial specialist for the county's solid-waste-services division.

County schools are looking at privatizing some of their waste management, hoping to find a way to save money and recycle more, Mr. Hawes said.

In pursuit of savings and increased recycling, Montgomery County entered a recycling contract about a year ago that would allow the vendor to charge the county a higher rate per ton for each ton above 90,000 tons.

Montgomery County paid $1.388 million last year in after-curbside costs to process and recycle 59,666 tons of mixed paper, Mr. Davidson said.


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