December 09, 2011


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By Molly O'Brien-Foelsch

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Early on a frosty Saturday morning, 18 Bucknell University students could see their breath as they gathered in the quad by Vedder Hall for a quick orientation. Graduate student Justin McKnight explained that in their first sweep of streets bordering campus, they would pick up trash. They'd comb lawns and porches a second time to collect recyclables.

The students each grabbed a work glove and white 5-gallon paint bucket and fanned out across Sixth, Seventh and St. George Streets in downtown Lewisburg, collecting cups, pizza boxes, paper towels — even a jar of olives.

"I'm involved in a bunch of campus greening initiatives," said senior art history major Katie Koch as she plucked a candy wrapper from the ground. Koch lives in Taylor House, an Affinity Housing option dedicated to sustainable living. "I'm here because I believe in recycling."

A springboard to awareness
McKnight got the idea for the clean-up and recycling effort earlier this fall while he was playing in the park with his young daughter. "I saw some trash lying around and started to throw it out," he said. "A lot of it was recyclable. It was more than I expected, and I didn't want to see it go into a landfill."

McKnight said he saw an opportunity to teach students about civic partnership and their rights and responsibilities as tenants, so he contacted Dean of Students Susan Lantz to get approval and funding for a coordinated recycling program.

Joe Snyder, assistant director of housing services, helps McKnight load recyclables into the bed of a 4x4 every Saturday. Snyder has spread the word among students living off-campus that they should separate their trash from their recyclables and put them outside for Saturday morning pickup. "This is a good springboard to increase safety, education and awareness between the University and the town," he said.

Snyder and McKnight weigh the refuse with a fish scale to track the volume of waste across weeks. The first weekend yielded more trash than recyclables, but over the last two months, the ratio of recyclables to trash has increased to almost 5:1.

"Our ultimate goal is to collect enough data to present to make the case that this is a relevant issue that needs further support," said McKnight.

Elementary school milk cartons
A few miles away from campus, a different kind of recycling program teaches elementary school students to form environmentally sustainable habits as early as kindergarten.

Lisa Perrone is the mother of two children at Kelly Elementary School and an Italian instructor at Bucknell. She had been searching for ways to make the K-3 school a bit greener when the custodians told her that the waste disposal company had gone to single-stream recycling — that is, all recyclables could be dumped into one container, including empty milk cartons.  Along with a few other parents, Perrone decided to organize volunteers to help guide the students as they empty their trays during the lunch hour, separating recyclables from the trash.

"Until then, empty milk cartons, disposable plastic lunch containers — even unopened drinks were being thrown out," she said.  

Perrone said that some of the volunteers are mothers of students at the school, and others have offered their time through Bucknell's Office of Civic Engagement or their Greek organizations.

One of those students, sophomore Maggie O'Brien, said she first went to Kelly for a one-time service project, but she's since made the recycling program a regular part of her weekly schedule.

"The kindergartners are so small they can't hold their trays and dump the liquids out of the milk carton at the same time," said the Spanish and economics major. "Sometimes they forget and accidentally throw the whole carton in the liquid container, and I have to go in and fish it out." || Read about Bucknell Dining sustainability initiatives.

According to Perrone, the school has cut its trash volume by more than half since the program started. "We're proud that the trash has gotten so low," she said. "And the school is extremely grateful and happy to see young college students acting as role models because the children can relate so well to them."

"It's amazing to me how if you ingrain these values in children at a young age, it affects their behavior as adults," said O'Brien. "It would be great if this project translates into the students become more conscious and engaged citizens later on."

Contact: Division of Communications

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