One man’s trash is another man’s extra credit

two students remove litter from a wooded area

Cleaning up the woods, from left Sadie Keene, 18-year-old biology student of Ypsilanti and Kolten Savey, 18-year-old criminal justice student of Chelsea, look to make a positive impact on the environment. Gray Bancroft | Washtenaw Voice


By Ivan Flores


On a cool and cloudy Tuesday afternoon, David Wooten’s field biology class took to the woods that enclose Washtenaw Community College’s campus to pick up litter throughout its natural areas.

“They had no idea what they were walking into,” Wooten explained of his students. “On the syllabus, it says ‘ecology and conservation.’ I gave them trash bags, gloves, and they got one hour to go anywhere in the natural areas on campus and collect as much trash as possible.”

students weigh the trash they collected

David Wooten’s field biology class gains extra credit for gathering trash from the natural areas around campus. Gray Bancroft | Washtenaw Voice

The students were divided into four groups: the Gophers, the Decomposers, the Mighty Mighty Ecotones and the Phragmites. The students were awarded points on their final exams based on the weight of the waste their teams collected.

At the end of their waste wars, the class congregated behind the Crane Liberal Arts and Science Building to weigh the trash they collected over the course of an hour. There were numerous filled bags, a lot of scrap metal, and most conspicuously, an old lawnmower.

This event has been happening for seven years. Up until then, the most any class had collected was 179 pounds of trash. This year, Wooten’s class gathered close to 350 pounds.

Dan Curtis, a recycling technician, showed up with a pickup truck to take the trash to the recycling center.

“We try to keep as much stuff out of the waste stream as possible, and reuse it,” Curtis said. Almost nothing goes to waste.

students gather at the recycling center

After collecting litter around campus, the trash was brought to the recycling center where Barry Wilkins, recycling operations manager, explained the importance of recycling. Gray Bancroft | Washtenaw Voice

Barry Wilkins is the recycling operations manager at WCC and his department is responsible for waste management around campus. With very few exceptions, they will take anything and recycle it – even bottles half-full with liquid and cigarette butts in them. Dirty, he said, is not an issue when it comes to recycling.

“This material is a revenue generator for the college,” Wilkins said. “We average about $30,000 to $40,000 a year.”

The students ended class by going to the recycling center and helping sort the materials they collected. A couple of them were quite excited about the lawn mower. As interesting a find as that was, the lawnmower couldn’t compete with the porcelain toilet Wooten’s students dragged out of the woods the first year.



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