"A Dirty Education" | My Earth Changing Moment


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"A Dirty Education"

In 2010 I took a Master Recycler Course sponsored by Allied Waste and OSU's Campus Recycling.  Part of the class requirements include giving back to your community by volunteering at community events.  After working several of these events I came to the conclusion that just sitting at a booth telling people what they should be doing was not making the kind of impact I wanted.  Driving home I heard a radio annoucment asking for volunteers to help with the upcoming Willamette Celebration.  I called and asked to volunteer with the garbage/recycling team only to be told there was no such team.  No one had given any thought to recycling so the organizers requested permission for me to take on this role.  The day before the event started I found out I had been approved to manage all the recycling for this 3 day event.  I didn't have a clue what I was going to do because my vision for recycling at events had never been done before.

Early in the morning of the first day, my son, his best friend and I gathered our supplies and began a journey that would change our lives forever.

I began by introducing myself to all of the venders explaining who I was and what I wanted to accomplish and asking them if they would be willing to set all there refuse behind them so I could pick up all that was recyclable.  I asked all the food vendors if they would be willing to place their food scraps in my buckets so I could take them home to compost them.  I was amazed by how willing to help everyone was, especially the food vendors, they were so excited to see all the food waste being put to good use.

I remember how joyfully we began patrolling the park as we set up soda/water bottle containers next to each trash can and began monitoring the trash for recycleable items.  But, as the temperature began to soar, and the number of attendees began to climb, a sense of forboding settled over us.  By 4pm on that first day, we no longer had time to patrol as truck load after truck load of garbage bags began to pile up around us.  My goal was to discect each bag and pull all recyclable containers, but as the pile grew and the temperature passed 100 degrees, we adopted more of a triage approach.  Some bags were so disgusting we didn't bother sorting them we just turned a blind eye and chucked them into the dumpster.  By the end of that first day, I knew I had made a big mistake.  We left the park around 8 pm when it became too dark to work.  I had to make several trips in order to haul all the bags of pop/water bottles and cans that we had gathered.  Far too early the next morning we crawled to the park to face another day.  By mid-day the temperature soared above 100 degrees again adding the stench of souring ketchup and rotting food to the already unbearable scent of the avarice and waste created by over 34,000 people.

By the end of the 3 day event, we had gathered over 12,000 recycleable bottles and cans and 900 pounds of metal.  We were able to reduce the amount of refuse heading to the landfill in half.    Sadly, those numbers barely scratch the surface of what could have been.  

The hardest part was seeing the indifference and apathy displayed so blatantly as time and time again I watched people throw items in the trash when the recycle container was right next to it.  As a result of  our efforts our city now offers recycling at all community events.