Catawba center develops education strategy for waste control
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Catawba center develops
education strategy
for waste control


Deborah Myatt (behind exhibit) and Master Gardener volunteer Carol Hamilton demonstrate one of the activities at the Waste Education Center. (Myatt recently became Mecklenburg County Extension Director.)  (Photo by Herman Lankford)

 

At Catawba County’s Waste Education Center, citizens can pedal a bike to compare the energy it takes to create an aluminum can from minerals versus recycled aluminum. They can discover non-toxic items to substitute for hazardous household chemicals. And they can see how groundwater pollution can travel to distant wells.

The Waste Education Center, operated by Catawba County’s Cooperative Extension Center, helps educate citizens about hazardous waste and pollution generated by homeowners and how to better control what goes into the local landfill. It is just one of many measures undertaken by former agent Deborah Myatt and Catawba’s Household Hazardous Waste Task Force.

Since 1989, Catawba County has been concerned about the amount of waste entering the local landfill and being dumped along roadways. The county was not meeting its goals for diverting waste from the landfill through recycling, composting and other means of disposal, Myatt said.

Myatt created the task force to develop a comprehensive strategy for educating the public about waste disposal. Through a number of innovative education and collection programs, the task force has continued to expand citizens’ awareness of waste reduction and proper disposal.

The Waste Education Center opened in December 1997 in a mobile unit behind the Extension center. The center provides groups with a variety of educational programs on waste. Because of its small size, the facility can accommodate only small groups, but Myatt tailors education programs to meet a group’s interests.

Groups can create “trash art” to discover creative ways of reusing items normally thrown in the trash. They can visit the center’s hands-on displays to learn lessons about trash and pollution. The center has hosted senior citizen groups, Scout troops, 4-H summer programs, home school groups and after-school groups.

Programs from the center also can be moved to Earth Day celebrations and local street fairs, bringing education to the people. One activity lets participants choose non-toxic products to replace more toxic household products, such as substituting vinegar for commercial window cleaner.

In addition to the indoor demonstrations, the center features a Composting Corral with demonstration composting bins. The site includes seven different types of composting bins, some commercially made and others made from simple materials such as wire fencing. Some are very sophisticated, with turn handles for turning the compost. Others must be turned the old-fashioned way — with a pitchfork.

The project was developed with the help of a state grant by Master Gardener volunteer Carol Hamilton.

Last fall, Extension began hosting a composting workshop at the site. For a $10 fee, participants receive a composting booklet and wire fencing for constructing a home composting bin.

Another of the task force’s early projects was a notebook for fifth and sixth graders with slides and activities on household hazardous waste that are relevant to the science curriculum. The notebooks are still used in schools.

Vermicomposting is another classroom education project that has been very popular in Catawba County. Myatt takes a simple worm bin to classrooms and shows students how the worms can turn household food scraps into a valuable soil amendment. Classes can adopt a worm bin and use the worms to recycle food scraps produced at school and brought in from home.

“It’s been a neat experience,” she said. “It reaches all different ages and really pulls them together, and it helps keep garbage out of the landfill.”

Educating youth is important, but Myatt realized that adults also need better knowledge of how to dispose of hazardous materials, including automotive wastes, motor oil, paint and household cleaners.

The county has held three annual hazardous waste collection days to give the public a means to dispose of hazardous household waste. The collections days serve as a teachable moment, educating people when they need to learn how and why to dispose of hazardous waste.

The Household Hazardous Waste Education program has been recognized for its contribution to the community. In 1998, it received the Outstanding County Program Award from the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. The National Association of Counties cited the program in 1991 “in recognition of distinguished and continuing contributions to the cause of strong and efficient county government in the United States of America.”

 

—Natalie Hampton


 


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