Front Row: Left to Right- Weston Henschel, Parker Brandt, Kordell Feldhaus, Dane Feldhaus, Sarah Hinman, and Haley Ringkob. Row Two: Makiah Henning, Thane Henschel, Brittany Bush, Tomi Lynn Jones, Lyndsey Effling, and Hannah Kilker. Row Three: Mason Kilker, Blaze Jones, and Trey Jones. Photo by Troy McQuillen
Young people put their muscles into recycling projects
- Green Spark 1: Use Passive Solar. 
- Green Spark 2: Recycle What You Can. 
- Green Spark 3: Recycle Creatively. 
- Green Spark 4: Consider Powering Your Business with the Sun. 
- Green Spark 5: Upcycle. 
- Green Spark 6: Go Geothermal. 
- Green Spark 7: Find Common Ground on Net Metering. 
- Green Spark 8: Get an Energy Audit. 
- Green Spark 9: Recycle and Make Money for Your Community. 
- Green Spark 10: Use Reusable Bags. 
- Green Spark 11: Encourage New Mothers to Breastfeed. 
- Green Spark 12: Make Sleeping Mats From Plastic Bags to Help the Environment and Others. 
If you show up at the recycling trailer in Britton, S.D., on the second or fourth Saturdays of the month, you’ll see some eager 4-Hers giving a new, muscles-required definition to the term “paper pushing.”
The trailer holds paper of all kinds: newspapers, junk mail, school worksheets, cereal boxes, old phonebooks and much more—all of it once destined for the landfill. For the last two years, Marshall County residents have instead brought their paper here, or to various drop-off locations throughout the county, for it to be recycled.
On those designated work days, the 4-Hers push the paper back using brooms and brute force so they can get a full load in the trailer before calling a Mason City, Iowa, paper company to pick up the full trailer and leave an empty one.
“The first time we totally overloaded. We thought we had to fill that baby,” said 4-H leader Kari Feldhaus. “It was sinking into the ground.”
The person from the paper company who picked up the trailer set them straight—the paper only needed to be four or five feet high.
“So we’re learning,” Feldhaus said.
The 4-Hers in Marshall County aren’t the only ones in the region working on recycling projects. Webster and Madison, S.D., and Gwinner and LaMoure, N.D., are among the communities were recycling efforts are either up and running or in the works. And the notable factor in these projects is who is doing the pushing (sometimes, as noted, literally) to get them going: the young people of the community.
These efforts started in various ways—some with conversations with people who live in other parts of the state or country where recycling is commonplace, some with connections to companies that helped the effort. But all of them at some point received some important forward momentum as young people shared their enthusiasm for the projects.
In Gwinner, Kirstin Kempel, sixth-grade teacher at North Sargent Elementary School, said the city voted to support a recycling program a few years after voting down a similar effort. One big difference between the two votes was that in the interim the school had started a recycling program. The kids, especially in the younger elementary grades, are very dedicated recyclers.
“They want to recycle everything,” Kempel said, even things that aren’t on the approved recycling list.
Those kids took that enthusiasm home to their families, which Kempel thinks affected how their voting-age family members thought about the decision to recycle. The city voted to support a recycling program, even though they have to pay for the service along with their garbage and water bills.
“It was a really big deal that it went through,” Kempel said, “and it had a lot to do with the kids recycling in school first.”
One reason young people are enthusiastic about recycling in a way that adults might not be is because they aren’t used to one way of thinking, Kempel said.
“Grownups are in their same-old mode of, ‘you do what you’ve always done.’ We don’t like change,” Kempel said. “Kids understand that this is their future.”
Hannah Kilker, one of the Marshall County 4-Hers, put in this way: “We’re going to be here longer.”
Patty Ogren, who helped get a recycling trailer in Langford as part of the Marshall County paper recycling effort, said kids might be enthusiastic about recycling because they see the need in their community, and they are able to do something about it.
“When we talked about it in our club, our kids were excited to try this,” Ogren said. “It’s something they can do. It’s not hard.”
Amy Shan, a senior at Madison High School who started a recycling program in the Madison school system, said she realized after a trip to California that recycling is one way she could make a difference.
“Recycling is important because it is one of the easiest steps that anybody can take to positively influence our environment,” Shan said.
She explained that before she started the project, she was very shy, but as she tried to work toward the goal of getting the project going, she came out of her shell. “Even a teenager can contribute to society,” Shan said.
Or, as young people across the region are showing, they might be the ones in our communities who are the best force for positive change.