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Environmental group faces budget cuts

Updated: January 3, 2012 1:44AM

Just days after earning an extraordinary distinction for its environmental stewardship, DuPage County is faced with having to make deep cuts in the support it provides for an iconic and pioneering institution that has painted much of the county green over the past 21 years.

School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education could receive just $30,000 in the fiscal 2012 year, which begins Dec. 1. In the past, SCARCE has received nearly $156,000 from the county, which provides the lion’s share of its funding.

Jeff Redick, chairman of the county environmental committee, said the revenue that funds the organization comes from permit fees, which are significantly down.

“What we’re looking at is trying to make ends meet within the confines of the budget,” he said.

Redick plans to recommend reallocating $28,000 from the county’s paint recycling program to SCARCE. Although the collection, reblending and redistribution service was one of the offerings touted as a factor in DuPage last week becoming the first county to receive recognition through the 25-year-old Governor’s Sustainability Awards Program, it’s not a revenue generator. The processing program costs the county about $25 per participant, county environmental specialist Joy Hinz said.

Although businesses such as Ace Hardware sponsor similar programs, Hinz said they charge people for bringing in paint, which can’t be taken to a landfill.

“A lot of people don’t want to pay $5 to get rid of a can of paint,” Hinz said.

The only safe and legal alternative to recycling is allowing an open can of paint to dry out, and then setting it out with the rest of the trash.

If the paint recycling program funds were redirected, the additional money would still leave SCARCE substantially short on program support. The Glen Ellyn agency conducts a wide variety of community outreach, including the acclaimed earth flags awarded to organizations that complete certain environmental programs.

Kay McKeen, the organization’s founder, said that in addition to its many longtime endeavors, SCARCE has been aggressively promoting area electronics recycling programs, including the nine county-sponsored locations that have diverted more than two million pounds of materials from landfills since the program began.

Some community entities, including St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Naperville, have done pilot programs and hope to establish ongoing collection of old electronic goods — efforts that could wind up being purely for the good of the planet.

“These are people who started in August, July, thinking they were earning their earth flags this year,” McKeen said.

With only inconsistent donations and the occasional grant award to supplement the county’s support, SCARCE is pursuing additional grant money to help fill the budget gap. One would help area colleges start recycling programs, and another would promote the implementation of commercial food scrap composting, required under a state law McKeen spent 10 years pushing through the legislature.

The organization also offers teacher training, seminars and other services geared toward maximizing green practices.

The plans might have to be changed if the cash isn’t there.

“We probably have 100 programs scheduled,” McKeen said.

“Not counting the workshops, the inservices, that kind of thing.”

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