In August, bigwigs from the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) and Chief Management Officer Camille Cates Barnett’s office threw a party to celebrate the signing of a new residential recycling contract. Since then, residents have been receiving party favors at their doors. “Residential recycling is back and better than ever!” announce the fliers tucked inside burgundy plastic recycling tubs left on doorsteps throughout the city.
City officials brought balloons and “Washington, DC Recycles!” knickknacks to the party to commemorate the momentous event. The 21-month Promethean struggle to restore alley and curbside pickup to the District had finally ended when city officials settled on a $7 million contract with Waste Management Inc. By law, the city is required to provide collection services for recyclables at least twice a month in an effort to reduce solid waste.
But before they break out any more cake, city officials might want to re-evaluate their own efforts to reduce, reuse, recycle. People all over the city are back to recyclingunless they work in a city office building.
“They’re patting themselves on the back,” says Jim Dougherty of the Sierra Club. “[B]ut in the meantime, it’s not taking place in most of the city…in most of the schools, or in most of the city buildings.”
In fact, a random sampling of District offices by Washington City Paper earlier this month shows that many city agencies are still putting everything they don’t want into a single receptacle. An employee working in the tax forms office at One Judiciary Square pointed to a standard-issue trash can when approached and asked where one could recycle an empty aluminum soda can. “I don’t think there’s recycling in this building,” she stated.
Although the District’s 1989 recycling law requires residences to recycle metals, glass, newspapers, and yard waste, city government offices are obliged to recycle only paper, according to the law. And even all those massive consulting reports aren’t making it into the recycling stream.
“There is no evidence at this time that we’re participating in recycling,” admits Janet McCormick, spokesperson for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs at 614 H St. NW. At one point, McCormick says, her department used to separate office paper for recycling, but that effortas well as the supply of recycling binshas since disappeared.
According to Leslie Hotaling, DPW’s solid waste administrator, the District’s failure to recycle in government buildings is largely due to overlap in the waste management program. Three different city departments currently oversee custodial services, building management, and trash collection contracts in government buildings. “If there’s any recycling going on in government buildings right now, it’s because a single employee has taken it on themselves,” Hotaling adds. “But in terms of a broad-based cultural change in the way we do business, that has not yet happened.”
LaVerne Law is a good example. As the Department of Housing and Community Development’s administrative services officer, Law oversees the collection of white paper in her office as well as collecting soda cans on her own initiative. But Law complains that the building’s recycling contractor shows up only selectively for scheduled pickups, often leaving her efforts piled up.
Hotaling explains that the District is working to establish a single management unit to coordinate recycling efforts. But even when individual employees recycle, Hotaling notes, custodians sometimes mix recyclables with the building’s trash.
“People need to know why diversion of [recyclable] material from the trash stream is important. They’re not going to do it just because we tell them to,” Hotaling says. Sounds like the city might want to hang onto some of the pro-recycling propaganda it’s been blanketing neighborhoods withand a few of those spanking-new recycling bins wouldn’t hurt, either.CP