Tales from the Pit
At the end of each tour, chaperones will often come up to me and tell me how educational the tour has been, not only for the students, but for themselves!
The secret is: our program is also meant for the adult chaperones and teachers that attend. When hosting tours, we have the attention of about 30 students, 1 teacher, and between 3-7 adult chaperones, mostly parents. When you do the math for the 260 tours given this year, that's about 7,800 students, and over 1,500 adults who have received an in depth program on responsible recycling practices. In the program, we add adult information such as where to bring HHW and E-Waste, or where to put your used coffee filters. One can say that our tours are like a good Pixar movie: directed towards kids, but humor and content for adults as well.
I have found through my previous experiences as a Recycling Coordinator, that although it is important to speak to residents and businesses about recycling, it can be extremely effective to educate our youth, who will not only become our adult population in the near future, but who are also very good at teaching their parents!
Recycling is about creating behavioral changes, which is often easier for students, as adults are used to behaviors that they have been practicing for years. Considering our program is a full two hours of in-depth information, we are not only giving our student and adult leaders the correct "insider" information, but also translating the information in an easily digestible way, and can therefore be easily executed.
Our student and chaperone participants are from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds, socio-economic levels, and access to programs. They might already be recycling savvy, or perhaps they have never learned about recycling before. Our hope is that all of our participants, whether students or chaperones, will have the information they need to improve their recycling not only at home, but also at school or work.
At the end of the day, I am happy to have taught my class of students, but also know in the back of my mind that I made an impact on the adults too. Behavioral change happens on many fronts, from receiving that flier from a public event, to seeing that billboard in the Bart station, or that neighbor who religiously sets out their 96gal recycling each week with only a 20gal garbage can. I know that after our participants have been through our two-hour program, they will be one step closer to championing behavior practices that will be passed on for generations to come. One thing we teach our students that hits home even for our adults is that our non-renewable resources won't come back once we use them all. The 4 R's might seem pretty simple, but they speak loudly and clearly to everyone.
**For any of your recycling questions, please visit our Alameda County Recycling Guide at www.stopwaste.org
The soil under our feet is 'an ecosystem unto itself,' and yet, as Soil Scientist and UC Berkeley professor, Step hen Andrews exclaims, we continue to "...treat [it] like dirt!" Quick fixes lead to the overuse of synthetic fertilizers, heavy equipment and careless feet destroy soil structure that took thousands of years to create. But there is something we can do, to renew our soil. This school year, irecycle@school Ed Center staff members got their hands dirty by spreading the word about compost with Davis St Transfer Station Earth Day worm investigations, maintaining and harvesting a worm bench, and learning even more about compost's benefits through a Compost EarthCare Workshop at the Redwood Landfill Commercial Compost Facility in Novato.
Compost is a nutrient-rich material that is added to the soil to make it healthy. Moreover, it releases those nutrients slowly over time so that baby plants are not over-nourished. The Worm Investigation Booth at Earth Day event that I led in Aprilgave children and their guardians the chance to explore our Ed Center worm bin and to feed the worms with 'vegan' options like eggshells, tea bags, fruit and vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds and filters. After learning about decomposers, each child took action by spreading a scoopful of compost in our Bay-Friendly Garden as a non-toxic alternative to improving soil health and structure. In May, Ed Center staff also harvested worm castings from the worm bench. The harvest was plentiful and we spread the vermicompost slurry throughout our bay-friendly garden. These events gave many a chance, including myself, to become re-introduced to the wonderful world of worms and to appreciate the work that they do.
We know that other organics like meat, bones, eggshells, greasy paper, and dairy can be put in the green bin. What about biodegradable products and pet waste?
At the Ed Centers, we've added a new image for our Rot quiz to explain pet waste. It turns out the feces of our herbivorous friends like rabbits, hamsters, and birds are fine, but those of dogs and cats contain disease-causing pathogens. So, keepyour doggy bags and kitty litter away from the green can and the sewage system. Biodegradable products such as starch-based utensils, compost bags, and bioplastic cups are alternatives to oil-based products; however, they do not readily break down during commercial scale composting. Commercial compost facilities do not facilitate the break down of such products because they require high heat for longer periods of time. At the Redwood Compost Facility in Marin County, they monitor and turn the wind rows for 30 days in 130 degrees F before sifting out the finished product. They are still there, intact, when the yard debris and food scraps have turned into finished compost. With so many decisions about what to buy or use, and how to dispose of it, things can get very confusing. Bio-plastic products (#7) will contaminate the recycling process for other rigid plastics.
Just like planting seeds in hard soil can be difficult, efforts to introduce adults to new ideas and change behaviors and attitudes can prove fruitless. So, why not add a little compost? By educating the youth and transforming them into 4R's experts, they become the teachers at home. That way, slowly and gradually, generations past, present, and future, may learn to value and respect our resources, especially our soil.
This year's annual Earth Day event sponsored by StopWaste.Org, Waste Management, Inc and WM Earth Care, offered many exciting opportunities for Alameda County families to learn about the 4 R's and what goes on at the Davis Street Transfer Station in S an Leandro. Adults and children could attend workshops, discover the wonders of a worm bin, plant a seed in reuse egg cartons and locally generated compost, and even make their own recycled paper! Least of all, there were driving tours of the facility that I co-led with the Materials Recovery Facility (M.R.F.) Manager, and that Andrew Sloan co-led with Senior District Manager, Jack Isola.
As we ambled the terrain in a comfy green Bauer's charter bus, visitors as well as myself, learned more about the finer details of operation in addition to Davis Street's latest construction project: a tipping floor for commercial and residential green waste drop off. The exciting project strives for sustainability and will be LEED Gold certified upon completion. In fact, 28% of the construction materials will be recovered from the transfer station's own construction and demolition M.R.F. Members of the public as well as Waste Management green waste trucks will bring material here, in a contained environment, to stay before being sent to a composting facility in Modesto, San Jose, or Novato. Contained green waste means less smells wafting to neighbors. The building blocks wind, preventing green waste from flying away, and helps to keep local wildlife outside and safe. What's more, the constructed space will allow room to recover organic debris from select loads of trash, further diverting compostables from the landfill.
The last stop of the driving tour included a stop at the curbside recycling M.R.F., where residents heard an insider's view of best practices. Davis Street Transfer Station's Recycling Supervisor, George Atristain, advised bags containing plastic bags to be brought back to the local grocery store, where they have bins designated for bag recycling. While M.R.F. hand sorters do pick out bags of plastic bags, it is preferred for them to be kept out of the recycling bin as they often jam machinery. On another note, he recommends not tying plastic bags that contain recyclables, as it makes it easier for materials to fall out and get sorted while they move through the hand sorters and machines on a conveyer belt! All of these efforts at home will help staff more efficiently separate and bale materials: up to 200 bales a day are sold, loaded into shipping containers, trucked to the Port of Oakland, which are then loaded onto cargo ships headed to remanufacturing plants, most of which are in China. There, bag of bags are hand-sorted by specialists based on the characteristics of the film plastic. Visitors are reminded by this visit that their steps to practice the 4 R's make a difference after it leaves their curbside once a week!
The school year is almost over and we are giving our final 4th grade tours at the Fremont irecycle@school Education Center. Since the beginning of the year, we have had two major additions to the Ed Center. There is a beautiful mural of a tropical marine habitat reminding visitors that storm water drains go directly to the bay; it is not cleaned before it flows into creeks, rivers, estuaries and oceans. Which means it is very important to keep trash as well as toxic liquids like motor oil off our streets so they don't pollute our water. Please drop-off your household hazardous waste at the collection center at the Transfer Station.
Another addition is a flat panel TV screen in-between our Reduce and Recycle station that gives up-to-the-minute information about solar energy collection in the solar panels at the facility. The 1,700 solar panels that have been installed create up to 90% of the energy that the whole facility needs to be run. During our presentation, we explain to the students how these solar panels are a perpetual renewable energy and what a valuable contribution this facility is doing to reduce their carbon footprint.
The biggest difference at the Transfer Station since the beginning of the year, say some of the staff, is that their recycling intake has increased. It seems to be a trendthat each year the recycling intake increases from the previous year. Administrative staff added that the volume of phone calls from the public asking about what can and can't be thrown into the recycling bin has increased. I hope this means that the people are becoming more aware of how important it is to recycle correctly – putting the right thing in the right place.
Bruce Fritz, the Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Manager, has noticed an increase in the volume of HHW that the public is dropping off. The winter season is usually the slowest season, he said, but this year there was a lot more traffic than in previous winters. In addition, he has noticed how much the Reuse area of HHW is being utilized. If what the public drops off at the HHW facility is still useable, for example, cans of paint, an employee puts these products on a shelf in the Reuse room for other residents to come by and take for free. All you have to do for this service is be an Alameda County resident and fill out a waiver.
I cannot help but wonder how much our StopWaste.Org education programs help with these increasing trends. We will continue our efforts to spread the 4R's to as many 4th grade classrooms and schools in Alameda County in the years to come and we look forward to seeing these trends increase and practicing the 4R's become a way of life.
The irecycle@school Ed Center provides its environmental educators throughout the school year with opportuniti es for professional enrichment. During these often eye-opening experiences, we learn new ways to engage our audience, become inspired to teach and ultimately, come away with a renewed appreciation for the work of environmental education. Sadly, Environmental Education ranks low on the list of priorities and is difficult for teachers to incorporate into their classroom curriculum. Outdoor programs help to give students the chance to connect with wild places while bringing concepts and lessons to life. YMCA Camp Arroyo, which is an environmental education center and youth camp in Livermore, is one such program.
As an environmental education assistant, you are always looking for new ways to spark students' interest, or find fun but firm ways to manage the group. Observing the Camp Arroyo staff gave us new insights as well as a breath of fresh air, both figuratively and literally (the Pit vs. Oak Woodlands and green hills.) Both Ed Centers focus on food waste, among other environmental themes. At Camp Arroyo, students collect their ort, or food waste, after every meal, which staff record and report. The goal is that by the end of their 3 day and 2 night stay, the 4- 6th graders would have reduced their ort to 1 liter or less. Whatever ort is produced is fed to Carla the Compost Bin, who is taken out by a group to the compost bins in the garden. This reinforces the message here at the irecycle@school Ed Center to, "Think before you toss," but it also implies that we should not waste this food in the first place, as food is grown and cared for, by people. The work of the Camp Arroyo staff inspired me by transforming "lunch" to making choices as a community.
Moreover, many urban students do not have access to a home garden, fresh fruits or vegetables, or even compost bins, for those who live in multi-family complexes. The garden is a 'sacred place,' where all are welcome to smell the chocolate or mint basil, taste the calendula petal, hear the bees, and witness their food scraps' gradual transformation from gross, to compost! In order to help address this issue, StopWaste.Org has scholarships (camperships) to assist schools with a commitment to the 4R's and high percentage of low-income students. These are provided to schools who may not attend camps otherwise.
Back at the Ed Center, things are always changing as we incorporate new ideas from professional enrichment and from each other. However, the experience at Camp Arroyo provides inspiration and a reason as to why we should practice the 4R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot! By diverting garbage we send to the Altamont Landfill in Livermore, we are able to have open spaces and continue to educate our urban youth and citizenry about the importance of enjoying and protecting our environment.
Camp Arroyo offers its programs during the school year for 4th graders and above. For more information, visit their website at: http://www.ebparks.org/activities/daycamps/arroyo.