Earth Day began 45 years ago, on April 22, 1970. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson championed the day that many mark as the beginning of modern environmental awareness. Nelson later received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in America, for his role in the movement.
Today the annual observance continues. The Saline Environmental Commission is observing the day by helping with local school activities this week and holding an e-waste recycling event on Saturday, where they will give away lilac seedlings.
Saline students are being taught to conserve energy and to remember the three “Rs,” Reuse, Reduce and Recycle. Rex Clary, Director of Facilities for Saline Area Schools, is guiding recycling activities at the various schools.
This week, Clary will be working with volunteers from the Environmental Commission and City Council to collect Styrofoam trays at Saline elementary schools for recycling. Dart Container Corporation, a Michigan-based manufacturer of Styrofoam products, will recycle the trays. They have a collection location at Pioneer High School.
Why add an ambitious recycling project in the spring when the academic schedule is already loaded?
“In the big picture we’ve got to do something about it.” said Clary a native Salinian, and member of the class of 1989.
Pleasant Ridge Elementary School is going a step further. They are planning to make April 22 a “Zero Trash Day.” Their goal is to limit trash for the entire school to a single bag at the end of the day.
Teaching consultant Nicole Kent has been leading the charge at her school, but many teachers, students and parents are involved. Like the other schools they will be recycling Styrofoam, but they won’t stop there.
Students and their parents have been learning how to pack a waste-free lunch. Recyclables will be sorted into bins. The school purchased a compost bin to handle fruit and vegetable waste. An arrangement was made with a local pig farmer to take bread and meat waste.
At Pleasant Ridge, these activities are just an extension of what they have already been doing.
“Our building has always led the way with recycling,” said Brad Bezeau, Pleasant Ridge Principal. “We actually schedule an additional recycling-only pick-up each week. Each Friday a different class picks up recycling and sorts through things for that extra pick-up.”
According to Bezeau, the students have been provided supplementary materials for the last few weeks such as age-appropriate books and videos about environmental issues. The teachers share the materials and their students discuss ways to take care of the environment. Parents have also been provided with information in the teacher’s weekly newsletters and in an email from Bezeau.
Many of the educational materials used in the program were created by Kent. She organized the school’s Earth Day activities. For example she has had students make labels for sorting waste. She has also arranged for third graders to assist Kindergarteners with sorting.
Kent attributes her environmental awareness to her family’s values.
“Just the idea of respect for all living things, I feel like that’s always been a part of how I was raised,” Kent said. “But then I was involved in things in high school. In college I actually worked for facilities management in a campus recycling program.”
Throughout her 20-year career in teaching, Kent has continued to take a leadership role in environmental stewardship. For the City of Saline, there is another group of leaders, the Saline Environmental Commission.
The Environmental Commission has introduced many initiatives to help city businesses and citizens take responsibility for the environment. Electronic waste days, held biannually for several years, have been among the most successful.
“Each year the amount of electronic waste collected by volunteers and disassembled by electronic waste recyclers has increased,” said Bruce Westlake of the Environmental Commission. “Some electronic devices can be refurbished but most electronic recycling recovers metals like: gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper, tin, and zinc along with plastics and battery materials such as lithium, copper and nickel to name a few. Other hazardous materials are diverted from landfills and ground water.”
Last year the two collection days diverted 32 tons of electronic waste from landfills. This year the first collection will be at City Hall on April 25 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Donations from the event will support Fifth Corner Student Driven Youth Center. Unlike previous years, CRT computer and TV screens cannot be accepted.