Columbia institute bails out recycling program Organization wins Md. service honors

May 16, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

State government was in a bind when a contractor on it months-old recycling program went bankrupt in 1990.

That's when The Athelas Institute in Columbia stepped in to help. By collecting, sorting and baling hundreds of tons of office paper, Athelas workers saved the program, state officials say.

The institute, a private, nonprofit organization that trains developmentally disabled people and places them in jobs, recently received the state environment department's Environmental Excellence Award and the governor's Salute to Excellence for its involvement in the program, which aims to reduce solid waste by 20 percent by 1994.

"At a time of real crisis, they were there," said John Goheen, spokesman for the Department of the Environment. "They willingly assumed collecting recyclables when there was a real need."

Environment Secretary Robert Perciasepe presented the second annual "Together We Can Clean Up" award April 27 at the Carrie Murray Outdoor Center in West Baltimore.

"It's a real statement of what our people can do and achieve," said Athelas Executive Director Raymond D. Jordan. "The developmentally disabled are out there doing things in the community and making a contribution."

The institute worked for six or eight months without a written contract and without pay to recycle office materials for the All State Agencies Recycle Program when its former contractor went bankrupt.

A crew of 15 institute workers labored five days a week on the project, recycling "hundreds of tons" of office paper, said John F. Contreras, general manager of business affairs for the institute.

"The paper was just backing up and backing up," he said. "It took a great number of weeks to put the program on solid footing again."

The state eventually paid the institute about $50,000 for the work.

The institute continues to recycle office paper and aluminum from the state program's 40 government offices each week. It also collects recyclables from 10 businesses in the Baltimore-Washington and Northern Virginia area.

It has already helped IBM exceed its year 2000 goal to reduce solid waste by 50 percent, Mr. Contreras said.

"We save the state many thousands of dollars by helping to save the environment and keeping people out of state institutions," he said.

But Mr. Contreras said the real winners are institute workers who have finally gained recognition after years of recycling materials in virtual anonymity.

"It means a validation after 15 years of recycling in the state," Mr. Contreras said. The awards mean "that agencies like ours and populations like ours can be useful citizens instead of being a burden to the state. They're actively involved and bettering not only their own lives but all of our lives."

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