DALTON, Ga. -- Recyclin' Ben is becoming more popular in Whitfield County, Dalton and area private schools.

Last November, the improved mascot showed up on the side of a new recycling truck bought by Dalton-Whitfield Regional Solid Waste Management Authority. This year, the authority started picking up mixed-paper recycling at every school in the county, so Ben's getting out and about more than ever.

"We were able to set it up to be a rolling billboard," said Norman Barashick, executive director of the authority.

On Thursday, the authority held an open house to introduce parents, teachers and students to its "Target Recycling" program and other educational programs available for students, including tours at the facility.

Residents who attended the open house had the opportunity to tour the authority's Materials Recovery Facility, nicknamed the "Murf." Mr. Baraschick said the 40,000-square-foot recycling operation opened in 2001.

"Our programs have continued to expand," he said.

Cassie Gallman, a fifth-grade student at New Hope Elementary School, attended the open house and said she's happy to have recycling in her school "because it helps the ecosystem."

Shayla Byrd, a third grader at New Hope, said she was impressed to see all the different materials made from recyclables at the center. She was especially impressed by the bathroom tile made out of recycled toilet seats.

Harvey Levitt, operations manager for the authority, said the agnecy already was picking up recycling at about 25 percent of schools, but county-wide school recycling is "a new program."

"We are in 30 some-odd schools and the 30 schools accommodate 20,000 students," he said.

The authority has implemented a competition and will award schools that have the most recycling per student. A top recycling school will be recognized three times throughout the year, he said, while the top three recycling schools will be recognized on an annual basis.

The authority has worked to have recycling in schools throughout the county for a number of years, he said, but only recently had the $400,000 needed to purchase the new truck and more than 200 containers for all the schools.

To pay for the truck, the authority used a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers program in which developers buy credits to offset any negative environmental impact from their developments.

Money from those credits paid for the recycling truck, Mr. Barashick said.