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ERIC the Green

ERIC the Green

A rolling recycling education exhibit practices what it preaches.

The City of Tempe, Ariz., had long wanted a mobile exhibit to instruct citizens about the importance of recycling. According to solid waste services director Mary Helen Giustizia, the original conception was a tiny, towable two-wheel trailer, containing little more than a fold-out display board.

“Over the years it's just kind of evolved,” says Giustizia. “In the last couple of years, we decided we wanted this to be a museum-quality type of thing that people could actually walk in, and it would have interactive displays that people would be able to touch and feel.”

The $120,000 project became a reality after Tempe applied for and received a $60,000 Waste Reduction Initiative Through Education (WRITE) grant from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. The remaining $60,000 came from an education fund fed by proceeds from recyclables sold under a recently negotiated contract with Hudson Baylor.

The resulting design, a 38-foot trailer dubbed the Education/Recycling Information Center (ERIC) contains exhibits that not only explain the importance of “the three ‘R's” — reduce, reuse and recycle — but also demonstrate the benefits of sustainability through their very construction.

The rubberized floor is made of recycled athletic shoes, a product Nike markets as Nike Grind Training Ground. The ceiling is made of sustainably harvested cork, a renewable, recyclable resource. Most of the metal used is reclaimed or recycled. Paints are soy-based. All wood products used had to have a Forest Stewardship Council certification, which ensures the wood comes from a sustainable source and is harvested responsibly. Some components of the exhibit are made of sorghum, a grass. “It looks like granite, but it's actually sorghum,” says Giustizia, adding that it's a “beautiful material.”

LEDs, compact fluorescents and natural skylights illuminate ERIC, while a biodiesel-driven generator provides power.

The exhibits feature ERIC, a desert tortoise mascot who shares his name with the trailer. In one, quadrants of ERIC's shell are made of different recycled materials that can be lifted to reveal what product the materials came from. A display titled “What's In Your Garbage?” shows the components of MSW that can be recycled. “The Recycle Cycle” illustrates ways to reduce waste, from embracing reusable grocery bags and buying products that use less or recycled packaging, to donating, recycling and composting products at the end of their useful lives.

ERIC will begin visiting schools and local festivals this fall. Giustizia says she hopes it will help people, especially children, understand the myriad small things they can do to help the Earth. “Just very, very simple things. And the more each one of us does, the more it helps the environment. It creates a movement. All of those little things really do count.”