Milk cartons are about the only thing county school officials have not found a way to reuse in an aggressive recycling plan announced Monday after months of prodding by students.
Lunch-time protests at South River Senior urging the board to get rid of polystyrene lunch trays and presentations by elementary and high school students at board meetings last school year did not fall on deaf ears.
Monday night, school board members listened to a self-supporting recycling plan that Assistant Supervisor of Operations Walter F. George said is the most aggressive in the state.
"The plan was already in the making," George said after the board meeting. "Student involvement seemed to add impetus to the whole thing.
"Cost-wise, we are not throwing dollars at this. If we can recycle 50 percent of the trash in schools, then I reduce trash pickups by 50 percent.
The other way (to pay for the plan) is by getting proceeds back from recycled paper. The checks go back into the program."
Already, 18 of the 119 county schools have begun recycling aluminum, polystyrene, paper and cardboard since school began in September. The board set a July 1991 date for implementing the recycling programs at the remaining schools.
George said arrangements with several vendors to purchase and remove collected materials will offset costs.
Weyerhaeuser Paper Co. has agreed to sort and sell paper from the schools by the ton. Alcoa Aluminum is providing in-school containers and a large trailer for storage, until cans are taken to a Columbia plant to be recycled. Money from the soft drink cans will either be donated to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation or used for school organization fund-raisers.
"The taxpayers pay for paper, but not for aluminum cans from soft drink machines," George said. "We can either use it for Save the Bay foundation or use the proceeds for cheerleaders."
But polystyrene, which represents 25 to 35 percent of school waste, remains a problem. School officials say it is the sturdiest and cheapest lunch tray available.
The board has entered into an agreement with Eastern Waste in Annapolis to sort and store the polystyrene. In return, the firm will obtain recyclable cardboard from the schools. The polystyrene will be taken to Amoco in Brooklyn, N.Y., where it is used to make various plastic items, including patio furniture and yo-yos.
School board member Paul Greksa said he completely favors the plan, and gives students credit for helping draw attention to the problem.
"I approve of it and I think that in this county we had better get serious about this business," Greksa said. "Recycling is one of the ways to do this. I think the students that came to testify played a very important role in pushing us ahead. Sometimes the children will lead us."