It was an institutional love-fest Friday at Severna Park's Valu Food, where key representatives from Valu Food, Alcoa Aluminum, the county Board of Education and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation flocked to inaugurate a statewide "Save Aluminum Cans -- Save the Bay" program.
All four groups are cooperating to encourage recycling under the assumption that if you make a popular cause convenient, almost anybody will get involved. All 12 of Maryland's Valu Food locations and all 121 schools in the county school system have agreed to collect aluminum cans. Proceeds -- about 1 cents per can -- will go to the Bay Foundation "Each year in this country we use 80 billion cans, of which 49 billion are recycled, mostly by people who are doing it for money, said George L Cobb, the president of the Alcoa Recycling company of Tennessee. "We're trying to close the loop on the other 40 percent of the population, who might get involved for the environment or for a charity."
Under the new arrangement, Alcoa has agreed to absorb 100 percent of the administrative costs involved in the collection. In return, they hope to create a class of consumer/recyclers who will pressure local soft drink bottlers to change over from bi-metal steel to all aluminum cans.
Steel containers do not have anywhere near the recycling value of aluminum. Most recycling drop-off sites will not accept the steel cans produced in this area.
Cobb guessed that the program would raise about $15,000 for the foundation in the first year.
"This is one of the most exciting innovations in a while," said Betty Caldwell, vice-president of the Chesapeake Bay foundation. "It's hard to think sometimes that one person's actions can save the bay, but they can if you multiply it out."
Ronald Becket, assistant superintendent of schools, said the aluminum project would fit perfectly into the new system-wide recycling program that student groups lobbied for last year.
Can collection days, in which students will be encouraged to bring their cans to school, will be organized on a school-by-school, grade-by-grade basis, Becket said.
Louis Denrich, president of Valu Food, said he was proud to have his chain involved in the project, and challenged other grocery chains and stores to follow suit.
"I don't think it's going to be a sales plus, its just something good for the environment," Denrich said. "I think the days of destroying our environment are over. The new environmental consciousness is changing that."
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union has been feuding with Valu Food for over a year, claiming the chain has refused to allow them to organize workers.
Kelly Keh of Alcoa explained the stick test to anyone who isn't sure whether their cans are aluminum or steel.
"Just try to put a magnet on the side. If it sticks it's no good," she said.