Recycling bins will be missing from all Howard County school cafeterias in September 2020, leaving students to throw all their food waste into garbage cans.

“Starting with the 2020 school year, we will no longer recycle in school cafeterias,” said Brian Bassett, a schools spokesman.

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The school system reached the decision after the annual contract between the county, including schools, and Waste Management Recycle America was negotiated in June.

The county went to the school system’s custodial management department, saying if recyclables are placed in plastic bags, they would be considered residue and therefore trash, Alan Wilcom, the county’s recycling program manager, said.

“The school system [deemed it] too difficult to collect in the cafeterias that the school system themselves decided not to recycle in school cafeterias,” he said.

Howard County is currently in its fifth year of a 10-year recycling agreement with WMRA.

The contract is renewed each June and this year, WMRA said recyclables in plastic bags, film or wrap would not be considered recycling but rather residue and would go in the trash, according to Wilcom.

In June, the county began to encourage residents to put our their recyclables loosely in bins or boxes, not in plastic bags.

“If you set your material out in a plastic bag, we won’t collect it anymore, [as] the plant will consider it trash,” Wilcom said.

“The highest probability of trash and recycled items being mixed is in our cafeterias,” Bassett said.

The reality of school lunches more often than not being packed with multiple plastic bags to store sandwiches fruit, chips, etc., led to the school system’s decision, according to Bassett.

Plastic bags delay production at recycling plants because the bags can get stuck in conveyor systems, according to a memo from the school system.

“Markets have implemented strict rules for the quality of the material that they will accept,” the memo said.

However, the school system will still have recycling opportunities elsewhere in its 77 schools.

The system will continue to collect recyclable items, primarily paper products and cardboard, throughout its schools and other buildings. These items do not have to be collected in plastic bags.

The number of recycling and trash dumpsters at schools will be adjusted due to the increase of trash, Bassett said.

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Seven county schools participate in composting programs, and the school system encourages students to reduce the amount of waste from lunches.

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