Recycling gains traction in Buffalo schools

News and analysis by Dan Telvock, Investigative Post's environmental reporter

More Buffalo schools are using green totes to recycle that will help boost the city’s recycling rate.

Investigative Post reported in November that only two schools were using the totes that were distributed to residents early last year, and that the district wasn’t doing much otherwise to promote recycling, although some individuals schools were.

Since then, 13 more schools have started using the city’s green totes. Allied Waste has also agreed to accept all recyclables in Dumpsters that had only accepted cardboard and paper.

“In the current pilot, we have 15 sites that are recycling with the green totes/city program so far,” Susan Eager, the school system’s director of plant operations, said in an e-mail. “We have six additional schools that will be set up with the city plan in the beginning of March.”

Eager said the school system does not have any tonnage data on recyclables for the school system, but anything collected through the green tote program is added to the city’s overall tonnage reports.

Eager said she has been working with the city’s Public Works Department to plan and implement a stronger program in the schools. The city still hasn’t hired a recycling coordinator, a job that has been vacant for more than three years. Those job duties are being filled by Raymour Nosworthy, a special assistant to Public Works Commissioner Steve Stepniak.

“Ray meets with the engineer, principal and a teacher that is the recycle instructional person,” she said. “Ray has the totes delivered once he makes contact and explains the program, gives them the pick up day each week and answers any questions. If they don’t have classroom bins, I have grounds deliver them.”

Back in November, Eager said the city schools have had inconsistent success with recycling. One problem she mentioned was that haulers wouldn’t consistently pick up the recycling, leaving Dumpsters full.

“Ray and I are working together to make good contacts and present the program, delivering the totes and making sure the city picks up as scheduled insures a better level of success rather than just handing out totes and not doing the due diligence to get the program up and running,” she said.

Eager said she met with Allied Waste in December to get educational documents and to begin brainstorming ways to target young children about the benefits of recycling.

“We haven’t implemented that yet, but we are working on it,” she said.

Eager said there are 28 schools that recycle only paper and cardboard in Dumpsters provided by Allied Waste, but she worked out an agreement to have the hauler take most recyclable materials with this program that targets the main offices and cafeterias at those 28 schools, but not individual classrooms.

“In our meeting this past December, one of the things we decided was that Allied would change the Dumpsters to co-mingle from cardboard and paper starting after the Christmas holiday.”

Although not a new program, Cascades, another waste hauler, has a paper recycling program with 26 schools. The company gives a small reimbursement to each school that can be used for field trips. This program is at no cost to school district, Eager said, and there is no written contract.

As for the bottles and cans with the 5-cent deposit, Eager said most schools have individual programs to collect them and use the money for school trips and programs as a supplement to what Cascades offers. She was unsure if all schools collect the deposit, but said “if there is a school not returning the 5-cent deposit bottles, they would be putting them in recycling.”