By Southern MN YES! Coordinator Michelle Isaacson
On Wednesday, January 18th, 2017, 22 students and their coaches from Mankato West, New Prague, and Springfield YES! teams came together at Gustavus Adolphus College to expand their knowledge on reducing waste, composting, and recycling. The hope was for a day of education and inspiration.
Jim Dontje, the Director of the Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation and Chair and Director of Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation in Environmental Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College started off the day with a welcome to the college and a short introduction to the day. The first presenter was Matt Domski, the Organics Waste Specialist at Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) who focused on encouraging workshop participants to prevent waste at the source. He explained that 20% of the food Americans buy is never eaten; we forget about it, throw out the leftovers, and many times, discard it too soon due to expiration dates on products that are not even created by a mandated procedure. Matt stressed the importance of looking at the whole life-cycle of a product before purchasing it to prevent such waste. The end of his presentation was centered on optimism. There is always something that can be done and the participants came up with a great list of implementable solutions to preventing waste including education, donating excess food, using bulk milk dispensers instead of cartons, adding it to animal food, and more!
This led perfectly into the presentation from Al Christensen, Director at Tri-County Solid Waste regarding what to do when creating waste is inevitable and how important recycling is. Participants were quizzed on whether various products were recyclable or not. Some examples raised a chorus of unanimous “Recyclable” shouts while others brought apprehensive mumbles, showing that even the most environmentally conscious students can get caught up on where to send their refuse. Al stressed that education is key. Participants were able to see a video of where the recyclables go and how they get processed. We even got to see the results of this process through products including the sweatshirt Al was wearing, playground equipment pieces, and a recycled tires bookmark that participants received. He concluded his presentation with discussing how to properly store hazardous materials in the household while quizzing the students by playing “Can You Tell The Difference”. This compared hazardous household items with non-hazardous materials like tic-tacs, juice, syrup, soda, and more.
The workshop ended with a guided sustainability tour of the Gustavus Adolphus College campus. Participants got some fresh air on their way across campus to the organics composter. Temperatures were comfortable, but still cool enough to see the steam rising from the bin. Our tour guide explained the composting process the college uses and even fired up the composter’s auger so we could see how everything was mixed. Everyone then crowded into the green house to see their two plots (one of which had leafy greens growing in it), their hydroponics setup, and the beginning of their aquaponics system. Participants subsequently ventured to the Big Hill Farm, a small plot of land that each year four Gustavus students are in charge of. They orchestrate the design and carry out the planting and upkeep. Food grown here goes directly to campus food services, which is then used in the cafeteria. We ended the tour on the top of Olin, one of the academic buildings, to examine some of their solar panels. Students got a great view of the campus along with a quick lesson on the many options that are possible when utilizing solar panels.
After a great day of sustainability exploration, the participating teams walked away from the workshop with renewed determination and a drive to implement waste reduction and recycling projects in their schools and communities. Stay tuned to see their progress!