[GRRN] Congress Resists Recycling Effort

Bill Sheehan (zerowaste@grrn.org)
Sat, 3 Apr 1999 00:29:20 -0500

-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Loughmiller <kelmar19@IDT.NET>
To: Recycling Organization Council <ROC@nrc-recycle.org>
Date: Friday, April 02, 1999 10:31 AM

Congress Resists Recycling Effort

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nearly a decade after recycling began on
Capitol Hill, many congressional offices still aren't separating
the paper and aluminum cans from the lunch trash. Even the House
chairman who oversees environmental issues on public lands has
turned his back on the effort.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said his office separated
recyclables only to see the effort go to waste because of sloppy practices.

``At the time, the garbage was being separated by our office.
It was later then placed in the same garbage bag by the cleaning
folks, and it didn't seem as if it was being recycled,'' the
chairman of the House Resources Committee said through a spokesman.

Even high-grade white paper, the most lucrative product to
recycle, isn't being widely sorted. For instance, the House earned
$25,000 for that recycling in fiscal 1998 _ far short of the
$150,000 that could be earned if 60 percent of the product was
sorted, according to the chamber's former recycling coordinator.

Recycling advocates are frustrated that some on Capitol Hill
ignore the program entirely while others recycle halfheartedly.
It's the byproduct of an institution where the 535 lawmakers set
the rules for each individual office and committee.

``The most stubborn bureaucracy in America is Congress
itself,'' said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., a recycling supporter. ``There's
never been an attitude that we should have to do that. No one is
responsible inside an office. Some offices take it seriously and
some don't.''

The recycling difficulties are the latest example of a
Congress that is having trouble following the laws and regulations that
apply to the rest of Americans.

Last week, The Associated Press reported that inspectors
appointed to ensure Congress obeys the same workplace safety rules
as corporate America found numerous violations, including
unprotected workers digging through contaminated trash, high
concentrations of Legionnaires' disease bacteria in one building
and improper storage of flammable chemicals.

Many U.S. cities and counties, as well as the executive
branch of the federal government, require recycling. But Congress has kept
its program voluntary. The recycling effort is under control of the
architect of the Capitol, whose 2,000 employees maintain
congressional buildings.

A 1997 survey of the 435 House offices found that nearly a
dozen refused to participate and that many others failed to keep their
``The problem is, it's a totally voluntary program,'' said
Herb Franklin, administrative assistant in the architect's office.
``There are 535 employing offices and each sets the criteria for
its office.''

To enforce recycling, Franklin said, ``you would have to have
policing, and what would you do if people didn't comply? What are
we supposed to do if an apple core is in a container with white

``Also, staff turnover is pretty rapid. Our situation is not
to be compared with a private employer or the executive branch,''
Franklin said.

Despite past setbacks, the architect's executive officer,
Lynne Theiss, said her agency is making another attempt at improving
Congress' record. In a pilot project started last August and set to
expand, some offices have been given separate containers for
high-grade white paper, a lower-grade mixed paper, cans and bottles
and pure garbage.

Much of Congress' mixed trash is now compressed and taken
away by a recycling company, which pays for sorted white paper but
nothing for material that is ``contaminated'' with garbage and
other refuse.

The House earned only $959 in fiscal 1996 from recycled
paper, and that total fell to a minuscule $7.51 in fiscal 1997 before
rebounding to more than $25,000 in fiscal 1998, said the General
Services Administration.

The 1998 improvement came after the House, in August 1997,
hired a former paper industry consultant, Patricia Dollar, to be its
recycling coordinator.

In an internal report in late 1997, Ms. Dollar said Congress
could have earned $150,000 that year if 60 percent of its
high-grade paper had been recycled at market prices.

But Ms. Dollar never met that goal. She was fired in February
1998 from her $25,600 position after seven months on the job.

She alleged in an interview she was dismissed after refusing
a superior's order to use ``evasive'' language in response to a
congressman's complaints about problems in the recycling effort.
The architect's office declined to address her allegation, citing
ongoing litigation involving Ms. Dollar.