It all started when an enthused club at Oak Park and River Forest High School wanted to make a difference.

On June 7, the Illinois Recycling Association will honor OPRF’s environmental club with an award for its recycling efforts. The Outstanding High School Environmental Club/ Student Leadership award “recognizes the organization’s dedication to learning and promoting recycling and waste reduction. It also acknowledges the effort that the students showed by providing a program that serves the high school and community,” according to a release from the association.

The news of the award was a surprise to the group. Karen Rozmus, Oak Park Village Waste reduction manager, nominated the club, but without them knowing it.

“We went to Oak Park’s Green Fest and she gave us the notice of winning the award,” said Cindy McGunckin, the club’s sponsor.

The club meets every Wednesday to collect waste around the high school. Once they’ve collected it from the individual bins in all the classrooms, they separate paper, plastic, and cans before dumping everything into appropriate dumpsters.

“Our focus now is on separating the waste,” said Dan Knickelbein, a student and the club’s president.

Mixed waste finds its way into the recycling bins quite often, He noted, so the club has posted signs on the bins indicating where trash should go. They’ve collected over six tons of paper so far this year. The club has gotten the word out about recycling in other ways. Every morning the group offers tips for going “green” over the public address system.

This devoted bunch has even gone to rallies to protest against anti-environmental issues. This year, they also raffled off this very clever contraption, a rain barrel. Michael Frank invented this device for his Eagle Scout project. “I wanted to promote water conservation for my project, and then continue the efforts here,” said Frank.

The concept of the rain barrel is to collect the water from the roof’s gutters, pouring it all into the barrel, so it can re-used. Conveniently, there is a spout on the barrel to connect a hose to water your plants.

Frank will being attending Purdue University in the fall to study mechanical engineering. “I want to streamline green technology,” he said. Frank also said that someday he would like to invent environmentally friendly airplanes.

The Environmental Club president will also be graduating this year. Knickelbein will be attending Macalester College, majoring in environmental studies. “I am really interested environmental politics,” said Knickelbein. When he graduates he said he would love to be a good lobbyist supporting the environment.

Dedicated member, and Environmental Club Vice President, Charlotte Goldman will be a senior next year at OPRF and will continue her recycling efforts with the club. Her green inspiration came from a young age when her dad always told her “Don’t be a litter bug!”

“If I can make a difference, why not try, right?” said Goldman.

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