City schools fail at recycling

Lack of comprehensive plan a major problem; some improvements on the horizon

Buffalo’s public school system’s recycling efforts are even less ambitious than those of the city.

Most schools aren’t even recycling bottles and cans, and the ones that do are only recycling paper and cardboard on a regular basis.

“Most schools are not recycling,” said Andy Goldstein, the city’s former recycling coordinator said last month on WUFO-AM.

“There are a few schools that have space issues and don’t have room for it, but it can be done.”

Susan Eager, the district’s director of plant operations, said there have been varying degrees of recycling success over the years. Consistency has been a problem, she said.

“If you can’t have the consistency, then the program is going to fail,”  she said.

In the past, she said, the school system has had problems with private haulers who wouldn’t consistently pick up recycling Dumpsters.

“We’ve tried numerous recycling efforts since 1999 that I know of,” Eager said. “But we need to stick with the ones that are consistent and effective.

“Plastic and cans have been elusive to us. We have tried a number of programs that did not work out. You have to have a vendor who will actually be consistent and will pick the stuff up.”

Goldstein, Buffalo’s last recycling coordinator who left in 2009 and now works for Cascades Recovery, said during an Oct. 2 interview on The Public Good radio show, said the school system needs to create more green teams and improve communication among faculty members who are interested in adopting a program and overseeing it.

Eager said having green teams in schools helps, but faculty can’t mandate it. She said principals, teachers,  building engineers, maintenance and food service employees all need to be on the same page to make recycling programs work.

“[Public Works Commissioner] Steve Stepniak and his team have reached out to the schools in a lot more positive way than the previous teams,” Eager said. “There is recycling going on at every school in some form or another. Is it perfect? No, but we are working on it.”

On Sept. 12, Mayor Brown announced that the Math, Science and Technology Preparatory School and Bennett Park Montessori—two of the city’s 57 schools—would participate in the green tote recycling program. Eager said the green totes will begin appearing in more schools over time, starting this winter.

City officials said Friday the totes are now in five schools.

Eager also said that it has been over a decade since the school system had a constant, effective educational program on recycling. She said the educational piece is important and “would definitely bolster the program.”

There is a recycling and renewable energy component to the curriculum, but it is focused on high school students taking the Environmental Science elective, said Kelly Baudo, the school system’s science department supervisor.

The city issued a request for proposals for a $75,000 recycling education program, but didn’t choose a vendor and is planning to reissue an RFP. Public Works officials say they’re still trying to determine what kind of program it wants

“I have a lot better sense that there is going to be success with it than in the past where it has been hit or miss,” Eager said.

Stepniak said his department has a great relationship with the school system.

“We’ve bridged a lot of those gaps,” he said. “So that connection is there and the schools support us. Maybe the challenge [in the past] was the connection between the two parties.”

Andy Prinzing, the assistant principal at Community Charter School at 404 Edison Ave., said the elementary school was not recycling when he was hired in August 2011. Prinzing said he called Modern Recycling, had a 30-minute conversation with company representatives and soon after he had a Dumpster in the back of the school dedicated to recycling.

“[Modern] said we could reduce our garbage by 50 percent if we just recycled all of the cans and cardboard from our food production,” Prinzing said.

Modern was correct: Prinzing said since he started the recycling program, trash pick ups dropped from every day to every other day

“We are going to save, just with the reduced pickup, at least $3,000 by just recycling cardboard and the tin cans that the food comes in,” he said.

To maintain momentum, Prinzing said Modern representatives have made presentations in the classroom and he went to Houston two weeks ago to learn how to use a $2,000 Youth Service America grant to get students involved in promoting recycling.

“The first thing we need to do is to just do it ourselves, so we are learning about it and even challenging ourselves,” he said.

Coming Monday: How San Francisco has succeeded at recycling.

Published Friday: City recycling program lacks basics, collection rate well below national average.