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There's gold in the garbage bins. Money in the trash. Stuff in garbage trucks that could save the city a million bucks a year. Even more than a million.

The city is all but broke. Schools cut teachers, firefighters get axed, senior centers close, parks are a wreck. Yet we're leaving a million bucks a year at the curb.

People gripe about the garbage user fee. It's not like complaining about the weather. The weather, you can't do anything about. The fee, you can. If you want.

The message got sent with everybody's garbage user fee bill. It was right there, in the third paragraph of a pamphlet printed on recycled paper: "If we can double our current recycling rate to 16 percent, we can save over one million tax dollars annually."

That's right. The city says only one in 10 families put newspapers, magazines, bottles, cans and plastic into blue recycle boxes. It's a pitiful number, and it costs the city plenty.

The city pays by the ton to dump garbage in a landfill. The more stuff that's recycled, the less dumped in landfills and the less the city pays. The more stuff that's recycled, the more the city gets from the recycler.

There isn't much each of us can do to cut taxes or to pad a poor city's wallet. But this is one thing. It's not just about reusing a bottle that otherwise sits in a landfill for a thousand years. It's money.

"It's a way the average citizen can help the city," said Joseph N. Giambra, head of public works.

The message should be sent from every pulpit, in every classroom, at every block club meeting, by every Council member. People gripe about the garbage fee. You want to pay less? Recycle more.

I saw the bleak landscape Thursday morning. There are 155 properties on a three-block stretch of Lisbon Avenue, near UB's South Campus. I counted 14 blue boxes.

Some people said they didn't have boxes (replacements: 851-4890). Some said they skipped a week. Some said they didn't care.

"I dump everything together," said Geraldine Tate. "I don't have that much (to recycle) anyway."

"It's apathy," said sanitation supervisor Bob Battaglia. "It's a little extra work, so it's 'why should I, if I don't get anything for it?' "

Officials and workers say the more homeowners in a neighborhood, the more recyclers. The more renters, the fewer blue boxes. It makes sense. The more of a stake you have, the more of an effort you make.

Fritz Tondreau owns 17 city properties, most of them near the University at Buffalo South Campus. His student renters throw out even deposit bottles.

"They're not bothering (to separate) the bottles they'd get money for," he said. "Forget about recycling."

It doesn't have to be that way. A block away from Lisbon is Highgate. Nearly everybody had blue bins out. Highgate has a strong block club. The block club bugs people to recycle.

"The city got itself in a mess, but we can help get it out," said Coralyn Hunter, block club president. "It's a two-way street."

The city and county reached out to schools and block clubs. But Larry Rubin, the county's planning commissioner, said some Buffalo schools won't put a blue box in the hallway or classroom -- even though it teaches a lesson and helps the city.

"I hear a lot of excuses," said Rubin. "To me, (recycling) happens when a kid goes home and says, 'Dad, don't you know that hurts the environment?' "

You want to gripe, fine. There's plenty to gripe about. There's also a way to help.

This is not a public service announcement. It's a call for common sense, a plea to put commitment ahead of complaint. You want change? Start by filling the blue bin.


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