The Three Rs

In Dayton, Ohio, the Montgomery County Solid Waste District (MCSWD) and Boonshoft Museum of Discovery are hoping to find the next generation of recyclers. Through their exhibit, “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle,” they are introducing children to the basics of waste management while supplementing MCSWD's and the museum's other environmental outreach programs.

The 1,200-square-foot exhibit is divided into three parts: a recycling center, a display detailing the history of solid waste and a walk-through landfill. “We knew that to keep kids interested, we needed an interactive exhibit,” says Daniel Graeter, assistant manager of solid waste for MCSWD.

When children enter the recycling room, they unload material — milk jugs, aluminum cans, plastic bottles and newspapers — off the back of a scaled-down truck and onto a conveyor belt. They then scan the items at a matching slot machine and pull a lever. The machine spits out a card identifying what items can be made from the particular scanned recyclable material. “The kids crank on those slot machines like crazy,” says Terry Rasor, exhibit manager for the museum.

The next stop on the tour is the history section, where visitors can read about the history of solid waste disposal in the county, beginning with the Sunwatch Indians.

The final destination is the landfill, featuring a backhoe and dump truck that can be operated by the children. There also is a fenced-in area with 14 bags of trash, representing what the average family produces in one week. A walk-in dome area contains Plexiglas windows through which the children can view trash. When children pickup one of three phones in the landfill, a recording tells them how long it takes specific items to decompose in a landfill and whether the items could have been reduced, reused or recycled.

Before the exhibit opened in June 2003, MCSWD held workshops and special events for area students. While MCSWD was reaching almost 15,000 students each year, the district wanted to increase the number of children it educates. MCSWD decided to join forces with the museum, which was developing a miniature town and wanted to add an environmental component to the section.

Since the exhibit opened, the museum has drawn in about 250,000 people annually. When it comes to environmental responsibility, kids are never too young to start.