New Brunswick teaches children, residents about environmental issues

<p>New Brunswick elementary school students picked up over 1 ton of litter on Tuesday as a part of the city’s “Urban Cleanup Week.”</p>

New Brunswick elementary school students picked up over 1 ton of litter on Tuesday as a part of the city’s “Urban Cleanup Week.”

Fifth graders from New Brunswick elementary schools found a toy skeleton hand among the litter they collected for Earth Day.

Their efforts were part of a weeklong series of events centered around environmental issues, called “Urban Cleanup Week,” throughout the city. Donna Caputo, the clean communities coordinator for New Brunswick, said they hoped to spread awareness of environmental issues and create a cleaner New Brunswick.

“If every resident just picks up litter in their own lawn, it would make a big difference,” she said.

Between four elementary schools, students picked up more than one ton of litter on Tuesday. Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street passed out awards for the most litter collected as well as a green dustpan for the students who picked up the skeleton hand, considered the most unusual find.

The kids watched a recycling and litter-themed magician, Caputo said, and held a “Slam Dunk the Junk” basketball game where students played with balls made from litter.

In an environmental trivia game, kids competed for small prizes, she said. They could also interact with a recycle robot.

Caputo said New Brunswick hoped to teach children that litter goes into storm drains that connect to streams, rivers and oceans.

“We teach them not to litter and to pick up what they see, and that they can make a positive impact, even in fifth grade,” she said.  

The events were coordinated with a potluck focused on food policy, held Tuesday at the New Brunswick Free Public Library on Livingston Avenue.

Keith Jones, chair of the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance, said the organization paired with Food and Water Watch and the New Brunswick Environmental Commission to provide an information session on composting for residents.

“A healthy Earth and healthy food definitely go hand in hand,” he said. “You can’t have access to food without a strong and healthy Earth.”

The NBCFA is also participating in garden cleanups on Rutgers Day and later at the Shiloh Gardens on Tabernacle Way.

New Brunswick also allowed residents to drop off materials such as paints and CDs at the Department of Public Works yesterday and gave out biodegradable bags and compost.

Today, they are opening up the initiative to nonprofits and houses of worship, which will be invited to clean up their property, Caputo said, although it was not always necessary.

“Houses of worship have some of the best-kept properties in New Brunswick,” she said.

The city plans to end the week with a flower giveaway at the Livingston Park Nursery at 1036 How Lane. The nursery plans to give a 20 percent discount on their entire stock.

All of the events are part of the lead up to next week, when inspectors expect to go around the entire city and issue warnings to residents with unkempt properties.

According to an article in The Daily Targum, the city would look for quality of life issues such as litter, debris, graffiti and inappropriate furniture on porches and balconies.

If residents did not comply, they would be issued a summons.

Caputo said while New Brunswick provides plenty of resources for cleaning streets and sidewalks, they want to prevent littering before it occurs.

“We want to teach people they need not litter at all, and they need to pick up what they see,” she said.

Caputo said studies have shown that when litter is on the ground, people are more likely to litter.

Students should be a part of the initiative, even if they are renters rather than property owners. Caputo invited Rutgers to participate in the Red Cup challenge, where students pledge to never let a Solo Cup drop on the ground and to pick up any they see.

Jim Walsh, director for Food and Water Watch, said Earth Day is a good opportunity to reflect on the environmental challenges facing the community today.

Besides providing residents with the training to make their own compost, the organization hosted a Tent State discussion on labeling food. He said they hoped to raise awareness about increased herbicide use on genetically modified food.

“Studies show [that] genetically modified food affect herbicide use and public health,” he said.

They also held a rally in South Jersey yesterday to protest a power plant that plans to build a natural gas pipeline through the Pine Barrens.

This Saturday, they are hosting a film screening in Toms River, N.J. of “Groundswell Rising,” which depicts the effects of fracking in Pennsylvania.

“We want to lead the discussion about the impact of the global food system on our environment,” Walsh said. “We’re glad to be part of a larger [initiative] in the interest of the community.”

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