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CEDAR RAPIDS — Since its founding in 1970, Earth Day has become an international holiday celebrated across more than 100 countries to demonstrate support for the environment.
Some advocates argue the day, which takes place Saturday, isn’t enough — individuals need to create practices that help guarantee long-term environmental protection.
Sustainability is a goal students at Metro High School in Cedar Rapids took on with their latest project.
For the second year in a row, those in the school’s STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics — Academy have made rain barrels to collect stormwater.
“Stormwater runoff is a big issue in urban areas,” said Chuck Tonelli, science teacher and STEAM Academy instructor at Metro High School, 1212 Seventh St. SE. “Especially here, with this town’s history with flooding. The more water captured at these properties, the less goes into the river.”
Earlier this week, students gathered outside to spray paint stenciled logos on the repurposed blue, industrial barrels, 10 of which are to be on sale for $30 each at this year’s EcoFest, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in the NewBo neighborhood in Cedar Rapids.
EcoFest has taken place every Earth Day since 2010. Vendors this year number in the dozens and include organizations like Indian Creek Nature Center, National Center for Science Education, Sierra Club, Monarchs of Eastern Iowa, Trees Forever and Linn County Conservation.
Tonelli said the hope is the stormwater, which most often is used for gardening and other yard work, will help cut down on water usage in the household. He said proceeds from the sale go to help fund future STEAM Academy projects.
Using a rain barrel is just one way area residents can go green this Earth Day and beyond. Here are four other ideas:
1. City Manager’s 1 Bag Challenge
Created by Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz in 2011, the 1 Bag Challenge calls for every Cedar Rapids resident to collect one bag of litter from their neighborhood, workplace or any site they visit.
“A clean city builds positive feelings toward the community,” Pomeranz said in a previous Gazette interview. “Everyone wants to live in a clean community. This doesn’t cost a lot of money. It’s a simple solution to a problem we’ve had.”
Anyone can participate in the challenge, which is scheduled to continue through October.
To participate, residents pick up a collection kit — made up of a plastic bag, work gloves and instructions — at participating locations and place the full bag out with their trash.
2. Encourage pollinators
Without an intentional effort to address the threat of extinction for several pollinator species — including wild bees, butterflies and hummingbirds — the global food supply could suffer, according to a report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
That’s why the city of Cedar Rapids, in partnership with the city of Marion and Linn County Conservation, is in the process of devoting 1,000 acres of public land for urban pollinator zones. It’s part of an effort, started last year, to restore prairie habitat.
According to National Geographic, individuals can encourage pollinators through their gardens and lawns at home. Planting milkweed and other native plants and limiting pesticide use are just some recommended steps.
More information on the city’s initiatives can be found at cedar-rapids.org.
3. Recycle electronics
Recycling is a common way to be environmentally minded, but many may not know about recycling their broken or worn-out electronics.
Often called electronic waste, certain components of electronic products contain hazardous materials. However, several organizations across the country offer recycling for products that can’t be repaired, including locations in Iowa City.
Electronics can be taken to the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center, 3900 Hebl Ave., and the East Side Recycling Center, 2401 Scott Boulevard SE.
More information can be found at icgov.org/ewaste.
4. Start a compost
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, yard waste and food scraps make up 20 to 30 percent of what Americans throw away. To combat this, individuals can start composting, a process through which food scraps and yard waste are broken down naturally into a mixture that can be added to soil to aid plant growth.
The city of Iowa City recently started a Compost at the Curb Program that offers curbside composting for residents who receive garbage, recycling and yard waste services. Now, the city takes compostable material to the commercial compost facility at the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center. Residents can then pick up the compost for $20 a ton.
To learn more, visit icgov.org.
Those not in Iowa City can also receive composting services from businesses like The Compost Ninja, or by creating their own backyard compost.
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If You Go
• What: EcoFest
• When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
• Where: NewBo arts and culture district, Cedar Rapids. A good place to start is around NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE.
• Details Schedule: ecofestcr.org