Students in Matt Routh’s Environmental Science class at Chippewa Valley Technical College looked for a way to make a difference while they learned. They weren’t wasting their time.

“The students researched the topics of plastic and food waste at the college,” Routh said. “They looked for ways to raise awareness and change policies for things like the coffee cups and stirs in the cafeteria, to even my paper policy in the class.”

While the class of 22 students were asked to develop a project together, the effort was entirely the idea of the students, culminating in interactive educational displays in the student commons May 3. “I gave them some parameters, like it had to involve research and action items, but 100 percent of their plan was instigated by the students. Even the presentation was their idea, too.”

Action items

“We’re trying to reduce the use of single-use plastic straws and coffee stirs,” said Dan Schraeder of Eau Claire, mentioning one small action item. He and partner Sean Hurt of Bloomer showed some alternatives to the plastic products, which they noted often end up as liter or in massive floating fields of debris in the oceans.

“We’ve got stainless steel and reusable plastic that are dishwasher safe and wrapped straws that are 100 percent compostable, so they break down in the environment,” Hurt said.

Sodexo, the company that operates the cafeteria at CVTC, will be switching to wooden coffee stirs when they run out of plastic ones, Schraeder said.

Nearby, students from the class were checking people’s knowledge of composting. “We’re showing what organic materials can be used for composting,” said Emily Granlund, a student from Chippewa Falls. “We have a game where you separate the items out into what you can and can’t compost to see if people were educated on it.”

Survey, quiz

Kyle Walczak of Rock Falls was helping conduct a student survey on plastics and food waste. “We will pool our data to see how much knowledge people have about it and if they would like to see CVTC take more action on that, like more composting of waste.”

Raya Kuester of Menomonie and Morgan Rupakus of Elmwood conducted a trivia quiz, finding out many people have little concept of some environmental issues. The number of plastic bottles thrown away every hour? Two and half million, Rupkas said. “We throw more away when we could be reusing things. Most of the trash ends up in landfills or the ocean.”

“I have tried to get through with an almost no-paper policy in the class as a result of students’ action on this project,” Routh said.

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Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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