Waste Not, Want Not!

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Reduce, reuse, recycle. We have all heard those words, and we know what they mean, but are they really important? YES!

Every household, every business, every school…everyone creates waste. In this day and age, it is really hard to avoid that. However, there are things we can do to minimize our waste and dispose of it responsibly. I’ll even let you in on a little secret, however first I need to explain where our waste is currently going.  

 Here at River Bend Nature Center, we have a winter educational program that brings us into the elementary schools throughout Rice County. We discuss the importance of managing our waste and practicing the “3R’s” both in school and at home.  This program serves as a good reminder, not only to the students, but to us Environmental Educators as well.  It’s easy to forget how big of an impact we can make. Rice County is not the only county with a landfill, nor is it the only county that produces waste. This information is important to all of us, no matter where we live.  

whats in the landfill

The average landfill has many unnecessary materials. How many of these need to be in the landfill?

 

The landfill that serves the entire Rice County is located in Dundas, at the Solid Waste Facility.  All of the garbage we put at the edge of our cub, or into our dumpsters, ends up at the Rice County landfill.  Our landfill is a way to safely dispose of our waste, and when landfills follow regulations, the environmental impact is minimized. However, it is definitely not the perfect solution. We are still disrupting habitats of animals, and using valuable land for our garbage. So what is the ideal solution?

The 3R’s: REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE!

Recycling is the easiest of the 3R’s, especially in Minnesota. Rather than putting waste in the garbage can, we put our recyclable waste into a recycling bin, and someone else does all of the work.  Our recycling is single sort, which means all we have to do is put it in one bin, similar to our garbage cans. A truck will come and pick up those recyclables, and the facility they are taken to will sort them into the different categories: Plastics, Metal, Glass, and Paper. At the recycling center each of those materials are shredded, melted or broken apart. Then they are sold off to companies that make new items from the broken down materials. The profits from selling the materials helps to cover costs of the recycling center.  Are you questioning if something is recyclable? Check the bottom, and specifically look for a recycling triangle; recycling triangles with any number (1-7) are recyclable, as well as anything made of metal, glass, paper, paperboard, and cardboard. If you still have questions, visit the Rice County recycling page: http://www.co.rice.mn.us/node/2218

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Make sure you know what materials are recyclable!

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The numbers in each triangle explain what kind of plastic it is made up of. In rice county, all plastics are recyclable.

Reusing is the second easiest of the 3R’s.  Reusing involves a little bit of creativity. Rather than sending waste to the landfill, you can create something new from it. In the classrooms we visit, we take toilet paper tubes and make bird feeders. We spread vegetable shortening on the tube, roll it in bird seed, stick a popsicle stick through the base, tie a string on it, and call it a bird feeder. This is a very quick and simple reuse project. The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.  bird feeder.png

Reusing is the second easiest of the 3R’s.  Reusing involves a little bit of creativity. Rather than sending waste to the landfill, you can create something new from it. In the classrooms we visit, we take toilet paper tubes and make bird feeders. We spread vegetable shortening on the tube, roll it in bird seed, stick a popsicle stick through the base, tie a string on it, and call it a bird feeder. This is a very quick and simple reuse project. The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.

Reducing is the most difficult of the 3R’s. It takes thought, time, and planning ahead. This is also the hardest to conceptualize because it is not tangible; it is a thought process.  The main idea with reducing is just that: to reduce, or to lessen, your waste. For example, when you go to a fast food restaurant and order a meal for a child, you get a plastic toy. I remember being so excited when I got those toys because it was new and shiney. But the excitement never lasted, and when I was finished with a toy, or even more often they broke, where did they end up? The landfill. My father often encouraged me to not take those toys, even though they were awesome, because they were just food for the landfill. Another way to think about reducing waste is thinking about a picnic. Packing paper plates, plastic utensils, and paper napkins is very convenient because there are no dishes involved; we can just throw them away and forget about them. But where do they end up? The landfill.  Rather than using those disposable materials, we can use cloth napkins, metal utensils, and plates that we can wash and put back in the cupboard. In that case the only waste we create is food waste which leads us to…
compost

Composting is the bonus word for waste education. 14% of what goes into the landfill is food scraps, which can all decompose and be returned to the soil as nutrients.  However, in the landfill, engineers have discovered that decomposition creates excess gas (methane) which can create explosions and cause serious problems to the landfill.  Because landfills are packed so tightly, there is no air or space for decomposers to break the food down. Compost is broken down by worms living in the soil; they slowly eat things we throw into compost bins, and then they defecate the nutrients, returning them to the soil to be absorbed by plant life.  Rather than throwing food into the garbage and sending it to the landfill, we can put it in our compost bins, and then use that soil in our gardens to help our plants flourish.

Finally, my secret for you: the landfill in Rice County, the landfill that all of our garbage goes to, is going to reach full capacity in 20 years.  In 20 years, we are not going to have any place for our garbage to go. Up until this past year, it was estimated to last about 5 more years. Luckily, the engineers have come up with a solution to extend the life of the landfill, but I am sure we all still plan on having waste in 20 years. And at that point where will we put our garbage? Just about all of our land is currently being used for homes, schools, parks, and farms.  

Here is my challenge for us all: let’s start thinking about what to do with our waste now. Why wait until we have no more room for garbage to create a solution? Let’s focus on what we are doing with our waste now, so we can extend the life of our landfills even longer. This earth is our home, and we need to take care of it.  

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For more information:

Rice county solid waste facility:  http://www.co.rice.mn.us/node/920

Rice county recycling: http://www.co.rice.mn.us/node/2218

Trout Lily’s Ice Dam

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River Bend Nature Center’s Trail map; Trout Lily is highlighted above in Pink. Copies of trail maps can be found at the Interpretive Center or online at http://www.rbnc.org

Trout Lily is one of my favorite trails to hike at River Bend; the meandering Straight River creates the perfect pal to hike along side.  The sound of the river gently flowing by eases my soul. It also provides a beautiful backdrop to gaze at with a steep slope opposite the river filled with trees. After the sun sets, it is a wonderful place to star gaze being so far from the lights of the city.

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A Stunning view overlooking the river from the Trout Lily Trail

However, being so close to the river provides its challenges for the Trout Lily trail.  This prime location for hiking is also a prime location for flooding and water damage. This last fall, when southern Minnesota was experiencing flooding from the excessive rain, Trout Lily flooded.  The close proximity to the river closed the trail down for a few weeks while the river rose, crested, and finally fell, and then a short while after the flood so that the trail could be restored.

Winter creates a whole new problem for Trout Lily: ice dams.  Ice Dams occur when many pieces of floating ice are carried along the current, accumulate, and obstruct the stream flow.  These ice jams usually are created when temperatures cause alternate freezing and melting of water surfaces. They commonly develop near bends, mouths and slope decreases in rivers. In our Straight River, the river bends right along Trout Lily, giving an ice dam a perfect home, especially with this winter’s fluctuating temperatures.

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The start of the ice dam on the Straight River

This winter, we have a great example and a wonderful view of it along the Trout Lily trail. The ice dam was so large and powerful this winter that it moved part of the ice dam on top of the trail.

This ice dam truly provides an excellent display of how powerful water can be. Some of the pieces of ice that have accumulated are 5 times my size, and heavier than big boulders. The river easily carries the weight of these ice chunks and seemingly gently sets them on the river banks. In some cases, the river can pile multiple ice chunks on top of each other with ease.  This winter, the Straight River decided to set the ice on top of the Trout Lily Trail, obstructing the trail for skiers, snowshoes, hikers, and even our trail groomer.  About 50 feet of the trail was obstructed by this ice dam.

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One of the many huge ice chunks that has been heaved onto the river bank right along the trail.

One afternoon when I went hiking on Trout Lily, after I had hopped over the ice chucks, I came across a large buck. He had found a spot where the river had made a small drinking pool. I scared him and interrupted his drinking, so he took off…across the river! He was able to walk over the congested ice dam safely without even cracking the ice. The ice dam is packed so tightly that it creates a surface thick enough to support the weight of the deer.

The warm weather has since melted a majority of the ice dam as well as the ice that was obstructing the trail. However, you can still see many of the large ice chunks that were heaved up onto the river bank.

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Thousands of chunks of ice gather along the bend in the Straight River to create this massive ice dam.

They are much smaller than they started out due to the melting, but it is still easy to see how large and powerful they can be. River Bend and all of our visitors are very lucky because the ice dam did not cause too much damage to the actual trail; Trout Lily is still accessible to hikers. I would highly recommend taking a jaunt along this trail to check out the remaining ice chunks from the nature-created ice dam, listen to the sounds of the cracking ice, and to enjoy a beautiful hike though River Bend.

 

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The Trout Lily trail gets so close to the river at some points, especially here where you can see how the trail was impeded by the ice dam.

Winterfest!

What is your favorite winter activity? There are so many to choose from: snowshoeing, animal tracking, kicksledding, skiing, star gazing, making S’mores over the bonfire, and so many more.  Luckily, I know just the right place to do all of those activities: Winterfest at River Bend Nature Center!

We have been busy here at River Bend getting ready for our winter fun day, Winterfest.  Come join us this Saturday, January 21 from 1-4pm. Winterfest is a great opportunity to get outside, explore River Bend, and learn about or do something new and fun.  There will be three “Snakes and Lizards” live animal shows and three “Stars in the Sky” shows which will be packed full with fun facts about animals and constellations.  Grab a pair of snowshoes and learn how Native Americans were able to effectively walk in the snow without exhausting themselves, and give it a try yourself.  Then grab a kicksled and experience how Scandinavians made traveling easier and more fun.  You can even put your game face on, pretend you are in the Nordic Games, and have a kicksled race with your friends and family.  

We will also be removing some of the invasive buckthorn found around the interpretive center to make walking sticks for you to bring home. Then, take your walking stick to the trails and explore two self-guided hikes; one about animal tracks and one about the history before the nature center was established. Start or end your hike at the amphitheater, where you can warm up by the fire, eat some S’mores, and drink some hot chocolate. One of the St. Olaf choirs will also be joining us and providing some wonderful winter themed melodies. In addition to all of that, there will be crafts, goats, games, popcorn, and more.

This is truly an extraordinary event. What makes it extraordinary? You! Your family! Your friends! So come out and join us. Challenge us to a kicksled race. Learn something new. Experience something amazing.  Eat some delicious s’mores.  Most importantly…have great winter fun at Winterfest!