Learning the four R’s
Recycling and Rubbish Exhibit (R.A.R.E.) program teaches kids to reduce, reuse, recycle and rot
“Should we put it under the bed?”
“Should we shoot it into space?”
The classroom of fourth-graders seated on the floor at the feet of Patrick Elstead were loudly adamant in their negative responses to Elstead’s questions about where garbage should go.
“We need to reduce what goes into the landfill,” continued Elstead, a Chico State student volunteer in the Associated Students-sponsored Recycling and Rubbish Exhibit (R.A.R.E.) program, funded by Butte County to promote awareness among schoolchildren of issues surrounding eco-friendly waste-disposal, recycling and composting.
The children had made the school-bus trip from Manzanita Elementary School in Gridley with their teacher and some parents on a recent weekday morning to spend a couple of hours visiting the R.A.R.E. exhibit, housed in the Recology Butte Colusa Counties building on Southgate Lane in south Chico.
Their day—which would include eating the lunches they brought and as a group identifying what in them was recyclable and compostable—began with the lively talk by Elstead, who was joined by Desi Hatton, another R.A.R.E. volunteer.
Hatton and Elstead went on to discuss the “4 R’s”—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. They solicited ideas from the kids on how they could help reduce what gets sent to the local garbage dump.
“We could use metal forks instead of plastic forks for lunch,” offered one child.
“Yes,” said Elstead. “You could also bring your own container for to-go food when you go to a restaurant.” Another suggestion to the kids for reducing waste was “buying smarter” at the grocery store, such as buying a few large boxes of cereal instead of many little boxes wrapped in plastic.
On the subject of reuse, one child suggested bringing his own lunch pail versus a bag that gets thrown away.
“When we go to Dutch Bros.,” another child said, “we bring our own cups.”
“And we save 25 cents a drink,” added his mother.
“Yes, you can save money, too,” Elstead said, smiling. He also suggested the use of Klean Kanteen reusable metal drinking bottles rather than buying bottled water.
Hatton brought up the subject of soup cartons. “Do you know what they can be used for?” she asked.
“If I’m done with a milk carton, I just shoot it,” one boy responded, eliciting twitters of laughter from kids in the room.
“You can turn them into wallets,” said Hatton of the sturdy soup containers. “What can you use egg cartons for?”
“You can use them for making ice cubes?” guessed one child.
“You can put paints in them,” Hatton said. “You can make a caterpillar.”
“You can start seedlings in them,” Elstead added. “Since they are made of paper, they can just decompose into the ground.”
Hatton and Elstead went over the “four main recyclables”—paper, metal, plastic and glass. Who knew that paper can be recycled only eight times, and that egg cartons are at the end of the paper-recycling line and must be composted? Similarly, plastic can be recycled only once, but metal can be recycled “over and over again, an infinite number of times,” as Elstead put it. “That’s the beauty of metal.”
When Elstead announced “Rot: everyone’s favorite ‘R,’” all the kids shouted “Yes!” He and Hatton launched into a lively discussion about composting and worms, before excusing the kids to peruse the many installations in the R.A.R.E. exhibit, such as displays on electronic and hazardous waste, a giant interactive garbage can and a walk-through “compost pile.”
The exhibit in south Chico is not the only opportunity for the public to interact with R.A.R.E.—the program also offers free in-class workshops at elementary schools as well as attending community events, such as the Chapman community farmers’ market and the Thursday Night Markets in Chico, the Snow Goose Festival, the Salmon Festival in Oroville, the Butte County Fair and the Endangered Species Faire.
Marley Zalay, student coordinator for R.A.R.E., said the program is ramping up for its busy spring season, when “a lot of classes around here like to participate … around Earth Day [April 22]. But we’re available year-round; our schedule correlates with the Chico State semesters, because most of our staff are students.
“I think educating the younger generation is really important,” she added, “to plant an environmental awareness and to encourage them to think about the amount of trash we’re producing as a society. It’s a really good experience for us as students as well, and we really want to spread our knowledge around the community.
“Here’s a statistic,” Zalay said. “The amount of trash we produce every year in the U.S. would fill a convoy of garbage trucks that would wrap around the earth six times or reach halfway to the moon.”