Gannett News Service

September 25, 2000
[Back to Recycle Congress Background]

Congress could have earned $1.5 million from all that red tape
By Erin Kelly, Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON -- Congress threw $ 1.5 million into the trash during the past five years.

That's the conclusion of a new report by environmental groups, which charge that congressional offices failed to recycle more than 70 percent of their 5.3 million pounds of annual paperwork - costing taxpayers $ 300,000 a year in lost revenue for the past five years.

"One would expect that the congressional recycling program would be a national leader - instead it's a national disgrace," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, a longtime critic of the program. "You would think that with a place that recycles so many sorry ideas, recycling a little paper would be easy."

A spokesman for the Architect of the Capitol, which runs Congress' recycling program, did not dispute the $ 1.5 million loss to taxpayers.

"If we had had a perfect recycling program, we would have received that much more money for the U.S. treasury," acknowledged Bruce Milhans, communications officer for the architect's office. "It's fair to say that our program could be more efficient."

But he said further claims by the GrassRoots Recycling Network about money lost failing to recycle aluminum, glass, and plastic could not be substantiated.

Milhans said the architect's office is taking steps to improve the Capitol's eight-year-old voluntary recycling program.

Before a new Congress is sworn in this January, the architect's office will have hired a recycling specialist, established special crews to pick up recycling materials, provided congressional offices with color-coded recycling containers to make it easier to separate waste and improved its training program to teach office workers how to dispose of recyclables, Milhans said.

Some Congress members have complained they have taken pains to separate their trash, only to see it thrown back together by janitors. The new recycling crews are designed to stop that problem, Milhans said.

But Congress members must accept a share of the blame, environmentalists and the architect's office said.

"We can do a better job, but it is incumbent on everybody to separate their trash in their offices," Milhans said. "We at the architect's office don't have the authority or the inclination to tell members of Congress what to do in their own offices."

Some Congress members say they are embarrassed by the failures of their recycling program. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said nonprofit groups and poor people who pick up and sell aluminum cans are better recyclers than the politicians.

"I am tired of the U.S. Congress being shown up by Boy Scout troops and homeless people," he said.


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