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Phoenix College celebrates Earth Day with a week’s worth of festivities

April 28, 2014

Earth Day is officially April 22, but the Phoenix College campus dedicated a whole week to teach students and the community about sustainable practices and the environment they live in.

The week of events was kicked off on Monday, April 21, 2014, by the college’s STEM Scholars, who hosted a showing of Secrets Beneath the Ice, as part of their Science & Popcorn series. The movie follows a state-of-the-art expedition that is drilling three-quarters of a mile into the Antarctic seafloor to retrieve rock cores that scientists will use to gain information about the Earth, from a time long before humans graced the planet – information that may give us clues about our future on Earth. 

The events continued on Tuesday as students and faculty from Geosciences and Environmental Biology displayed their research and work from the semester. From cigarette butts to CDs, students showed visitors the impact that items used daily have on the Earth when tossed out. These items might not seem too hazardous, but following their research, the students learned otherwise. “I didn’t realize how many different items went into making a CD,” said Jason Hernandez, a PC student. “Working on these projects inspired me to learn more about what we use, how it’s made, and how we should get rid of them.”

Much like CDs, cigarette butts may seem harmless but they contain chemicals that pollute the air and water. One group worked with a company called TerraCycle and had a collection container sent to them – now the group is working to collect butts which will be recycled into shipping pallets, reducing the blight on the street and pollutants in the air and water.  

Recycling was also a hot issue at the event. One student group sorted through one day’s worth of trash collected on the PC campus. Out of the 72 bags of trash collected, they were able to find 14 bags worth of recyclables. According to Maggie McGraw, an adjunct faculty member whose class participated in the event, “That's about 19% of our trash that was about to go to the landfill that will now be recycled into new products that will save resources, including water and energy.” Her students hypothesize that students may not know exactly what can be recycled; therefore the students will be submitting a proposal to Phoenix College asking that labels be placed on recycling containers indicating what can be recycled.  

A crowd gathered around one table in Sophomore Square as Ken Costello, an adjunct faculty member who teaches Chemistry, demonstrated how to make biodiesel fuel – a combination of vegetable oil, lye, and methanol.  Participants also learned about the various geological features that can be found in Arizona, from the red rocks of Sedona to the vertical rock formations of the Chiricahua Mountains. Tuesday’s event also included booths from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

“This definitely helped open my eyes about how different items should be recycled,” said Jorge Soto, a PC student. “Even your tennis shoes can be recycled!”

The fun didn’t stop on Tuesday with events taking place through Saturday, which included a plant sale with the Garden Club, more presentations from the Geosciences department, displays and games presented by the STEM Scholars, and a Saturday morning campus/community clean-up event hosted by the Student Leadership Council.

I think that participating in Earth Day events, such as this one, is very energizing,” said McGraw. “My students were passionate about the research they uncovered. They took it to heart and I'm hoping that it will stick with them that making small changes in our habits can really add up when we all make them.”

By Megan Martin