By Julie Krienke
DELANO, MN Many of us overlook common signs such as “bottles and cans here” or “reduce, reuse, recycle,” but these simple phrases may be more important than many of us think.
For Jeanne Kaiser of Delano, recycling has become an important issue. Kaiser has been diligently working to raise awareness about the importance of recycling at Delano Schools.
Kaiser works with the Tiger Activity Center (TAC), and she volunteers Friday and Saturdays during the school year to inform the school about the extensive amount of plastic that is hauled to landfills.
According to a recent study in 2008, by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), citizens and businesses generated nearly 250 million tons of solid waste in one year alone. This totals nearly 4.5 pounds of waste per person, per day, according to EPA’s website.
In addition, the EPA has ranked the most common ways to dispose of municipal solid waste (MSW), commonly known as trash. According to the EPA, approximately 33 percent is recycled, 12.6 percent is burned, and the other 54 percent is thrown away in landfills in the United States, alone.
With these statistics in mind, it is shocking how many people continue to throw recyclable materials such as plastic and aluminum into the trash, knowing that the materials will eventually end up in landfills.
“I saw that the school didn’t have any receptacles for cans or plastic,” Kaiser said. “We need to do something about it. I want them to become aware of the plastic that is hauled to landfills.”
Kaiser became passionate about recycling when she attended a wrestling meet at the school and watched all of the plastic bottles get thrown away with the rest of the garbage.
Taking the responsibility upon herself, Kaiser decided to separate the plastic from the rest of the garbage. After several hours, Kaiser had filled 11 bags with plastic that would have eventually ended up in a landfill.
“Jeanne is driven, and she is just working hard,” Jeanie Pilarski, a friend of Kaiser, said. “She is focusing on trying to improve the environment. That’s what she does.”
After her experiences at the wrestling meet, Kaiser decided to raise awareness within the community of Delano about the excessive amount of plastic that ends up in landfills every day.
“I thought ‘we need to get another basket or garbage for recycling,’” Kaiser said. “We really have to make some changes, and it’s really a matter of being aware.”
To implement this, Kaiser went to Walmart to buy five garbage bins, and took them back to the TAC to put plastic and aluminum can labels on them.
Yet, it was when Kaiser put these signs up that the challenge arose. Many students and adults continued to throw their plastic bottles and aluminum cans into the garbage because it had become such a habit.
It was at this point that Kaiser received assistance from several custodians at the school. They helped put more plastic and aluminum can labels on the garbage cans, which helped people understand what was going on.
“The custodians don’t have time to recycle, and we can’t expect them to, with all their other work,” Kaiser said. “So we need people out there that are as passionate as I am. I hope people get inspired.”
According to Kaiser, it would be helpful to announce prior to games that there are separate receptacles for garbage and cans.
“We have to start somewhere,” Kaiser added. “If we keep reinforcing recycling, the public will understand.”
Kaiser feels there is a great need within the community of Delano when it comes to recycling, but she wonders if this problem stems from a deeper cause. Kaiser feels that parents need to take on the responsibility of educating their children about the importance of recycling.
“All in all, it goes back to teaching the kids,” Kaiser said. “It’s going to be easier if the parents show their kids how to be responsible when it comes to trash and recycling. It’s all about education, and it has to start at home.”
So, what is all the fuss about? Why is it so important that we recycle our plastic bottles and aluminum cans?
When reusable materials are not recycled, they are sent with other garbage into landfills. Landfills obviously take up large areas of land, and this land cannot be used ever again when filled with materials that do not decompose.
In addition, many of the materials that are thrown into landfills can be used to make other items. From plastic and aluminum cans to fluorescent light bulbs and batteries, people throw away useful materials.
“We’ve got to do it,” Kaiser said. “We are leaving this for our children. I’m trying to do this for other generations because we want them to respect our land.”
Kaiser hopes to continue her work at the school by promoting recycling at athletic events and among the students. Yet, she cannot do all of the work by herself.
According to Kaiser, it would be extremely helpful if a group of people could assemble together after each school activity to help sort the recycling. The only reason this project would not take off is because of lack of help.
In the upcoming months, Kaiser hopes to find people to assist her in recycling after football games.
“When the group is so large that it will create more plastic and cans that need to be recycled, that’s when you need the people there,” Kaiser said. “With the help that we can get, we can take the garbage and put it in the right dispenser.”
In addition, Kaiser expresses her uncertainty about what is happening in the elementary and middle schools. According to Kaiser, even targeting the high school is a large project.
Those who are passionate about recycling and who feel obligated to clean up landfills are encouraged to lend a helping hand within the community.
“Look at the place where you work, or even within your own business,” Kaiser said. “Do they recycle? Then look into your own home and ask the question, “do we do enough?”
“When you’re walking, if you see something on the roadside or sidewalk, pick it up,” Pilarski said. “Let’s just work on keeping the Delano area clean.”
Consider the issue of sustainability and doing something different in your life to make materials last longer.
“I would hope that the community would take this, look around, and say, ‘am I doing enough for recycling?’” Kaiser said. “Just think about it. Don’t leave it for your neighbor. The only change we are going to make is if we would make it ourselves.”
Kaiser is asking for support from Delano community members, and she is looking for passionate individuals to help her focus on recycling in Delano Schools.
If you are interesed in helping to recycle at Delano Schools, please contact Kaiser at (763) 972-3458.