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Hillsborough Community College sacks recycling apathy

If you happened to step foot on the Ybor City campus of Hillsborough Community College (HCC) during the week leading up to Earth Day on April 22, perhaps you noticed some students were carrying around more than just their backpacks. Biology Professor Paul Rabaut gave some of his students a most unusual assignment. As an extra credit task, he asked them to carry a trash bag for a week, throwing their garbage into the bag. 

The goal? “I wanted them to be inconvenienced by their waste and realize the burden it creates in the community and on our planet,” says Rabaut. 

To ensure his students were staying on track with the project, under the heading of a sustainability initiative called HCCthinksgreen, he required them to check in via Twitter three times a day and post using the hashtag #TrashBag. Rabaut says 80 to 90 students participated in the event, with many even drawing faces or cartoons on their trash bags. 

“The bags really proved to be conversation starters with other students on campus,” he comments. “The idea was to make everyone feel comfortable about carrying around a trash bag on campus and encourage others to partake in the project.” 

Not only did the weeklong project, which started on April 16, catch on with several faculty and staff members, but some local businesses also took interest. “Fit2Run – The Runner’s Superstore, which operates a location at International Plaza, engaged with the initiative on Twitter and started following us.” He hopes the event, which was in its first year, will expand to the other HCC campuses throughout Hillsborough County. Rabaut, who masterminded the project and even runs his own composting maggot farm at his home, refers to the #TrashBag initiative as his “baby” and says he will certainly promote the event more heavily next year. 

HCC Marketing and Public Relations Manager Angela Walters says the event helped her realize how much trash she produces on a weekly basis. 

“It really made me stop and think about how much waste I created,” she remarks. “It’s quite interesting carrying around a bag of trash for a week.”

The #TrashBag event culminated on Earth Day at the HCC Ybor City campus, when the participants were to turn in their bags. Rabaut and Walters both said that around 20 students did so, but some had only a few items in their bags. 

“Throughout the duration of the project, students were encouraged to throw food waste into a compost pile and recyclable items such as plastic bottles and aluminum cans into appropriate receptacles, which we have around the campus,” says Rabaut. While there wasn’t a final tally on precisely how much trash was collected by all participants during the week, Rabaut believes the active engagement from the students was the greatest result of the project. “Many students spread the message to parents, friends, and others and helped get them involved, too.”

Walters adds, “This project shows that small steps can make a huge impact.”

Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

 Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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