Seventeen students and teachers from Youth Energy Summit (YES!) teams from Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Yellow Medicine East, and Alexandria Discovery schools participated in the recent Don’t Throw it Away, Recycle for Another Day Workshop in Willmar and Spicer on 2/14/2017. This workshop was a great combination of waste reduction, recycling, and climate change, allowing students to connect with experts and gain information to position them for success as they excel in team-based projects this school year.

Although parts of the day were a little “smelly”, the overall experience was “crazy”, “cool”, and a “I never knew” sort of day. The day started off with a tour of the Willmar Household Hazardous Waste and Willmar Recycling Facilities. The group toured the Household Hazardous Waste building where Jay Baker explained what products came into the building, how they were handled, and finally how they were packaged and shipped off to be disposed of properly.

He also explained the importance of bringing these materials to the hazardous waste facility so toxins do not end up in our landfills where they become harmful for the environment. Following that tour, Derek Amundson brought the group to the recycling facility where they got to see how recyclables are brought in (already sorted), sorted again by staff, and then fed into a huge machine that bales the like recyclables together.

Derek then showed the group the storage facility that houses all the bales until there are enough tons to be shipped off to be processed and used again. Then they heard from Matt Domski, the Organics Waste Specialist at Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) who focused on encouraging workshop participants to prevent waste at the source. Matt stressed the importance of looking at the whole life-cycle of a product before purchasing it to prevent such waste. Jenna Totz from Climate Generation then spoke about how recycling is one in many ways to help mitigate climate change. She started off with a few frightening statistics like how we throw away 4 million plastic bottles in the garbage each hour and that Hersey Kisses wrappers are recyclable but they are so tiny that no one thinks to recycle them! Jenna ended with having the students walk around in groups and answer questions about recycling. The workshop ended with a tour of the Kandiyohi County Solid Waste Sanitary Landfill.

Participants got some fresh air driving to the top of the second highest point in Kandiyohi County, the top of a ~100 foot deep garbage pile. Jeff Bredberg spoke to the participants about the history of the landfill and how Minnesota has laws in place that prohibit any production of new landfills, therefore we must conserve the space that is left in the existing landfills (by recycling and composting). The group then toured the weigh station and learned about the only existing state of the art leachate treatment system in the United States. He explained that in the past, and in other landfills, the water that permeates through the garbage after rain and snowfall was collected and brought to the waste water treatment plant where the water was treated so it could be returned to the environment. The system that was put in place in 2015 treats the leachate on site, therefore cutting out transportation cost and emissions.

Although it may be gross, the black oil looking leachate is so clean after it is treated in this system that you could drink it! Youth Energy Summit (YES!) empowers youth to partner with their community to create economic and environmental vitality through hands-on learning and team-based projects related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste reduction, recycling, composting, local foods, and more.

YES! operates in collaboration with Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, Laurentian Environmental Center, Ney Nature Center, Lakes Country Service Cooperative, and Sauk River Watershed District. Major funding for the 2016-2017 season is provided by the McKnight Foundation, Southwest Initiative Foundation, and the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, a constitutionally-established permanent fund for protecting and enhancing Minnesota's environment and natural resources, as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). For more information, visit