UI, Iowa City embrace Earth Week

BY KATIE HEINE | APRIL 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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Keaton Rickels' white gloves didn't stay white for long. The 20-year-old spent two hours pulling garlic-mustard weeds and planting trees just south of the Boyd Law Building on Wednesday.

In recognition of Earth Day coming up on Friday, the University of Iowa and the city of Iowa City are hosting a slew of environment-centered events to help community members "go green."

And though UI sophomore Rickels participated in the tree-planting for an environmental class, he said he was glad to have the opportunity to help out.

"I think it's important people get involved with their community and help make it a more beautiful place," he said.

Last year, city officials used a $57,000 ECO Iowa City grant to schedule a full month of programming for Earth Month. Without the money this year, the schedule will be a little smaller, said Jen Jordan, the city's recycling coordinator.

Despite the funding changes, both UI and Iowa City community members are working to create a month of environmental improvement and education. Events range from bike riding to drug recycling.

"Every day is Earth Day, but this is a good time to get more people involved," Jordan said.

The UI Office of Sustainability is celebrating Earth Day with an array of activities that will continue beyond the 41st anniversary of the nationally recognized day.

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A "Bike to Campus" day, a sustainable festival showcasing students' creative works, and a sustainability concert featuring Mason Jennings are just a few of the UI's upcoming events.

One new event this year is a tree-planting competition among various UI student organizations. The event is called "OrgPlant," and the winning organization will win a cash prize. Also, Iowa City and the UI have been named Tree City USA and Tree Campus USA, respectively.

The city is also sponsoring free tours of the Iowa City Landfill and Wastewater Treatment Facility on Saturday, said Jordan. The tours will provide a behind-the-scenes look at how waste and water are treated, which officials hope will be educational, Jordan said.

"People generally don't think about that kind of stuff," she added.

The city is also hosting "Take-Back Day" Saturday with the national Drug Enforcement Agency, during which residents can rid of expired or unused prescriptions and medications. Approximately 125 pounds of prescriptions were collected in last year's event, Jordan said.

Providing the community with these type of events allows residents to find out what's going on in the area and learn how to get involved, she said.

Environmental Advocates — a nonprofit organization based in Johnson County — doesn't have a schedule of events, but it collaborates with the UI and Iowa City, said Mary Skopec, a board member.

This month's events help motivate people to consider greener practices, she said.

"When you start thinking about Earth issues, people often become overwhelmed," she said.

Though many people don't think their small change will contribute to the overall picture, Skopec said she believes the reverse is true.

"Small differences can make a big change down the road," she said.

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