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Another Voice: Buffalo schools should follow the law on recycling

By Sam Magavern

Buffalo is starting to make progress on recycling more and wasting less. City Hall has made recycling a priority. Mayor Byron Brown, Public Works Commissioner Steve Stepniak and Refuse and Recycling Director Susan Attridge have worked hard to educate Buffalo residents on how easy it is to recycle and how much good it does for the environment and the city’s finances.

Did you know, for example, that recycling an aluminum can reduces energy usage and pollution by 95 percent? Or that every ton of paper we recycle saves 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water? Did you realize that recycling saves the taxpayers money by reducing the fees the city must pay for its garbage pickup and landfilling?

Unfortunately, some businesses, nonprofit organizations and even government agencies have not yet gotten the message.

One particular embarrassment is the Buffalo Public Schools. It turns out that most city schools have only partial recycling programs. Few of them are in full compliance with the city’s law, which requires all people and organizations to sort out recyclable goods, including paper, plastic, glass and metal, and not throw them in the garbage.

In addition to breaking an important law, the schools are teaching their students a bad lesson: that it is OK to throw out recyclable goods. The students then take that lesson home with them, and our residential recycling rates suffer, too.

Setting up a full recycling program at a school is not that hard, and many area schools have done it. The Greater Buffalo Recycling Alliance offers a simple guide with tips for a successful program.
Most schools already recycle cardboard and paper. All they need to do is add glass, plastic and metal. The city will provide them with free totes and pickup service, so it will not even cost them any money. In fact, it may save them money, as their garbage bills should go down when they begin reducing the amount of waste in their dumpsters.

The short-term solution is for the superintendent to instruct all schools to come into compliance with the law and begin full recycling promptly. The longer-term solution is for the school district to include full recycling for all of its schools in the next contract it makes for waste disposal. In its prior contracts, the district negotiated garbage pickup for all the schools but left recycling up to each individual school – a very inefficient process.

It would reduce costs, and also air pollution, to have a single vendor handle all of the garbage and recycling for the district, rather than having multiple trucks coming to the schools. For all of these reasons, the Buffalo Public Schools should move quickly to full recycling.

Sam Magavern is executive director of the Partnership for the Public Good and a member of the Greater Buffalo Recycling Alliance.

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