“Board members felt very strongly if the system is going to do something like this, it needs to be replicated across the district,” said member Patricia O’Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase).
Fairfax County, like Montgomery, sends polystyrene trash from public schools to an incinerator whose heat is used to generate electricity. Fairfax officials estimate the electricity powers 96,000 homes. Fairfax schools quit using dishwashers in the 1980s, saving millions of gallons of water annually, according to county officials.
“The issue with dishwashers is the waste water that is lost and the chemicals that go into the waste process are very harmful because you’re talking about sanitizers and detergents,” Binkle said.
Grether-Sweeney also said dishwashers, which require maintenance, may not always be practical. There are labor costs involved in operating the dishwashers, and schools built decades ago aren’t always equipped to handle the electrical demands of running a machine that will heat water enough to kill germs.
Nadine Bloch, one of the parent advisers to the Young Activist Club, said students often tell her that those answers aren’t good enough.
“There are some adults that get really stuck in the wrong place,” Bloch said she tells the students. “That’s why it’s good there are youthful activists who can tell people that things have changed and there’s a necessity for moving on and looking forward.”
Emily Fox, who counted the discarded trays at Piney Branch, said she, Anna Brookes and the rest of the Young Activist Club aren’t going to quit lobbying for a dishwasher.
“The students do care,” Emily said. “They should care, because we’re going to be the next generation, and we’re going to change things.”