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Recycling has been a tremendous success story for Wisconsin: 98 percent of our population recycles, 96 percent feels it's worthwhile, and 75 percent is strongly committed to it.
DNR promoted and taught recycling long before the 1990 Recycling Law was enacted. Our efforts started with a special recycling edition of 1985 Wisconsin Natural Resources in 1985. The issue was so well received that we complemented it with the Recycling Study Guide for grades 4-12 in 1987. In two years, the study guide was out-of-print. An EPA grant helped revise the guide, develop additional teaching tools, and conduct surveys and teacher training throughout the state.
A 1989 survey of school principals showed 62 percent of schools recycled an average of two items, by 1992, 92 percent of the schools were recycling an average of at least four items.
Kids brought home the recycling lessons and behaviors learned at school. We found that 36 percent of households surveyed were getting recycling information from school-aged children.
Homeowners responded well to recycling education, but large apartment dwellers and businesses lagged behind from lack of instruction and opportunity. DNR and UW-Extension offices worked with apartment and business associations, trash haulers, and local units of government to develop and distribute handbooks, host workshops and lead open houses. By 1994, 79 percent of businesses and 88 percent of large apartment dwellers were recycling. By 1998, 87 percent of the businesses and 91 percent of the large apartment dwellers recycled.
As recycling matured, local government assumed more responsibility for recycling education. The impact was profound: In 1990, 83 percent of the households recycled an average of three items; in 1992, 86 percent recycled an average of four items; and in 1998, 98 percent recycled an average of seven items.
When yard waste was banned from landfills in 1993, local government, DNR and UW-Extension worked with businesses like hardware stores to develop and distribute information. Volunteers educated citizens on composting.
The effort was tremendously successful: Between 1990 and 1995 over half of Wisconsin's yard waste – 290,000 tons – disappeared! Where did it go? It never left peoples' yards. Residents were leaving grass clippings on the lawn and composting leaves.
Recycling has been successful in Wisconsin because residents of all ages learned two important lessons: how to recycle and why they should do it.
Joel Stone is DNR's recycling and water programs educator.
Almost five million children in the U.S. experience breathing difficulties on a daily basis. The DNR Air Education program, in conjunction with the American Lung Association – Wisconsin Chapter (ALA) is working on a new project to help people understand how air pollution hampers children's ability to breathe.
A teacher's guide with six lessons and an activity book for daycare and preschool classrooms will help increase the knowledge of preschool children, their parents, and educators.
Asthma, a reversible chronic lung disease, is a growing problem in America that affects over 17 million people. Thirty-three percent of asthma sufferers are children under the age of 18, and that rate is rising. According to the ALA, incidence of asthma in children has increased 72.3 percent between 1982 and 1994, and children under the age of five have the highest asthma incidence rate.
Younger children are particularly at risk because their bodies and lungs are still developing. Children also breathe in more air per pound of body weight than adults do, which means they inhale more pollution. Because children spend more time outdoors than most adults do, they are more exposed to air pollution.
Ground-level ozone, sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, acid aerosols, and airborne particles irritate the respiratory system. In high concentrations, ground-level ozone reacts in lungs to cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and pain with deep breaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1995), 25 percent of U.S. children reside in areas where ground-level ozone levels exceed acceptable standards. Southeast Wisconsin is one of those areas.
Ozone and other air pollutants plague rural areas as well when winds blow pollution across city, county, state and national borders. Rural areas also face pollution from open garbage burning and leaf burning, which produce particles, carbon dioxide and toxic materials. Good air quality is important for people of all ages, no matter where they live. A better understanding of air pollution is the first step toward freer breathing for all.
Sharon Boss is a DNR intern working on air pollution consequences for asthma and health.