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CCPS, county government partner for iRecycle Smart program

Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) and the Charles County Government are partnering for an iRecycle Smart program focusing on the “big three” — single use plastic bottles, paper and aluminum cans. The program was developed to reduce contamination of recyclable materials.

By streamlining and simplifying the recycling program in schools, organizers are hoping to collect more discarded items that will make the cut at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), a plant that separates and readies single-stream recycling for sale to buyers.

Principals were introduced to the iRecycle Smart program during a summer leadership institute and brought information back to school-based staff before the start of the new school year. Teachers and staff will introduce the program to students. Separate short videos — one for secondary students, another for those in elementary school — offer a quick “how to.”

Building service teams play an integral part in the success of the program and receive focused training, said Tim Emhoff, environmental education resource teacher at Nanjemoy Creek Educational Center (NCEEC). Bins will be emptied once a week by building service workers unless a student-led club — such as a Green Team, JROTC, honor society — assumes the responsibility.

Gina McCullough, an environmental education assistant at the NCEEC, said that recycling in the U.S. isn’t a broken system. “It is a little disjointed,” she said. “So, what happened? People happened.”

As well intentioned though they may be, people tend to recycle the wrong types of plastic, don’t rinse out containers and wishcycle, the practice of throwing something in a recycle bin and making a wish that they’re making the correct choice.

“When in doubt, throw it out,” McCullough said. Just because a used pizza box is made of cardboard, doesn’t mean it should be thrown in the recycling bin. “Pizza parties, yes. Pizza boxes, no,” Emhoff said.

Food residue, oils and other ingredients left behind can pose a threat to machinery that processes recycling materials. The same goes for items that seem like they can easily be recycled. Plastic grocery bags, Ziploc and other plastic storage bags, plastic straws and plastic silverware cannot be easily recycled, Emhoff said.

Such items can be tangled in machinery causing the entire bale to be contaminated and ultimately discarded. Unrinsed food containers that have food left behind — such as peanut butter jars and grease-stained pizza boxes — can contaminate bales and cause them to be trashed. MRFs set a recovery rate – or percentage — for each bale. If the facility’s recovery rate is that a bale can contain 10% of non-recyclable material and a bale is determined to contain 11% — the entire thing is ditched. The other 89% of recyclable material is headed to the landfill. 

iRecycle Smart in schools

The iRecycle Smart program focuses on three recyclable items often found in schools — paper, single-use plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Aluminum is a hero in the recycling world. It has an endless life span with the turnaround from recycling bin to store shelfs spanning only about 60 days.

CCPS facilities produced about 3,785 tons of trash and recycled 207 tons of materials in the 2022-2023 school year with a recycling rate of 5.2%, April Murphy, supervisor of operations for CCPS, said.

Program organizers are eyeing piloting a program in January that will study how well recycling at a high, middle and elementary school cafeteria can be operated. The various types of plastics used in food service call for a more nuanced approach when it comes to recycling, Murphy, said.   

The county government gave CCPS $17,000 to implement the program with $15,000 going to purchasing an additional 1,490 recycling bins for schools. The other $2,000 went toward promotional materials, including posters placed at the bins with pictures of the Do’s and Don’ts of the iRecycle Smart program. Another element of the program is the blue bin mascot, Mr. Chuck Itin, that will officially kick off the iRecycle Smart at the Charles County Fair on Friday, Sept. 15, and will be available to attend other community events.

CCPS facilities produced about 3,785 tons of trash and recycled 207 tons of materials in the 2022-2023 school year with a recycling rate of 5.2%, Murphy said.

The bins and posters will be placed next to trash cans giving people the opportunity to make the decision to recycle or throw something out. “Studies show that if given a choice, they will choose properly,” McCullough said. The success of the program calls for students, staff and community members to reevaluate the “chasing arrows” on items heading to the recycling bin and to reduce, reuse and rethink.

Videos have been produced with CCPS students to help others learn more about the iRecycle Smart campaign.

Elementary school-focused video.

Secondary school-focused video.


About CCPS

Charles County Public Schools provides 27,598 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 37 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Kathy Kiessling, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial M. Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.

CCPS provides nondiscriminatory equal access to school facilities in accordance with its Use of Facilities rules to designated youth groups (including, but not limited to, the Boy Scouts).