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Boston Public Schools Don't All Recycle, But Soon Could

Officials with Boston Public Schools are looking for a vendor that could bring single-stream recycling to the district this year.

Boston Public Schools — some of which don't recycle paper and plastic — are switching to single-stream recycling this year to decrease their overall waste.

With single-stream recycling, students, teachers and other school staff wouldn’t have to sort paper from cardboard from plastic. Instead, they would be able to put all recyclable materials in one container.

Phoebe Beierle, a UTC Center for Green Schools fellow, will work with the district for three years to implement recycling and other environmental programs at the schools. She said most city schools would have the new recycling system by November.

The city started distributing 64-gallon "Big Blue" recycling carts at houses and small apartment buildings in July 2009.

“They’re doing it in their homes,” Beierle said of the public school students. “They should be doing it in the schools.”

How single-stream recycling will work at the schools

School officials are looking for a vendor that could provide single-stream recycling to all the public schools, Beierle said. 

In the meantime, they are also trying to find sources of funding for the carts, which would cost a total of $30,000 to $60,000.  

And Beierle said she’s searching for ways to pay for a campaign to educate the schools about the new program. Students could design posters promoting it, she said, and the city could hold a recycling competition. At the same time, the schools will recruit teachers and custodians to help carry out the program and encourage everyone in the building to recycle.   

“With leadership support within the schools, she said, “We’re hoping it can be a really successful roll out.”

The history of recycling at the Boston Public Schools 

Boston City Councilor At-Large John Connolly said at the that requiring the Boston Public Schools to recycle was an important part of getting the city as a whole to live sustainably.

While the new program won't make recycling mandatory during the two-year implementation phase, Beierle said, the city will likely adopt a policy later on.

All Boston Public Schools began recycling Styrofoam trays in their cafeterias in 1997.

“But as far as the recycling of paper and plastic goes,” Connolly said, “that is a decision that’s made on a school-by-school basis.”

Still, the district recycles about 400 tons of paper, cardboard and Styrofoam every year, Beierle wrote in an e-mail. 

In 2006, Abitibi-Consolidated, a company that converts paper into newsprint, installed dumpster-sized recycling containers at the schools. The green and yellow bins and the collection services were free, and the company paid the schools a nominal amount of money for each ton of paper they collected.

In 2007, the schools recycled a total of 393,925 pounds of paper in just over three months, after Mayor Thomas Menino challenged them to a competition. The previous year, before they had the large recycling containers, the schools had only recycled 2,150 pounds.

But during the 2007-2008 school year, the company gradually pulled out from all but seven of the schools because recycling paper had become less lucrative, Beierle said.

Paper piled up in the Dumpsters, which were soon covered in graffiti and even set on fire. All in all, she said, the program took on a bad reputation.

Now, students who participate in the STRIVE Citicycle Program collect paper from the schools and sort it at the recycling center in Brighton that the district owns.

Teachers and principals have had to schedule collections, which Councilor Connolly said was a burden. But the arrangement the district is seeking would relieve them of that responsibility. 

“This would be a huge step forward for making it easier to recycle at schools and not put the pressure on principals and teachers to figure out how to fund it and get the service in place,” he said.

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