A push to protect

WESTBROOK – It’s a winning situation all around, Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School students say.

A new project by a group of WWG students provides a community service and helps protect the environment. There’s even a partnership with a Minnesota business.

The WWG Youth Energy Summit team is holding a grand opening this week for a new oil recycling station outside WWG High School in Westbrook. The station, which is free for the public, includes drop-offs for used motor oil, oil filters and antifreeze.

“It’s kind of a whole class project, that we all worked on,” said Hannah DeSmith, a WWG senior and a student in this year’s YES class.

“The students are really proud,” said YES adviser Pat Merrick of the recycling station. “Every time they drive by the school, they can say, ‘I did that.'”

YES is a program that encourages teams of young people to get hands-on experience learning about energy conservation in rural Minnesota. Through community projects, team members get a chance to develop leadership skills, make their communities more sustainable, or even learn about opportunities for entrepreneurship. The program was started in 2007 through a partnership between the Southwest Initiative Foundation and the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center.

WWG students have had success with their YES projects, which have ranged from collecting cell phones and tennis shoes for recycling, to conducting a school energy audit, and buying a wind turbine to help provide electricity for the school. Now, the group has set up an oil-collection tank. Dumping out used oil is an environmental hazard with wide-reaching effects, DeSmith said.

“If you dump oil on the ground, it’s polluting the water, and the soil and your food resources,” DeSmith said.

Pat Merrick, adviser for the YES group, said the oil recycling project started last year. Students worked to get the collection tank, he said, “And this year’s class is finishing the project by doing the publicity for it.”

Collecting used oil is only half of the project, DeSmith said. When the tank is full, the East Side Oil Company of St. Cloud will come to empty it out. East Side Oil processes and recycles materials like oil, antifreeze and used oil filters. Merrick said the used oil can be recycled into materials for building asphalt roads.

“The big push we’re excited for is the oil filters,” Merrick said. A lot of oil gets trapped in the filters, so throwing them away can be bad for the environment, Merrick said.

DeSmith said students created a poster campaign around the school to encourage students to use the recycling station. There will also be some special events to go along with WWG’s homecoming game this week.

“On some of the rosters for homecoming, we put ‘Earth YES!’ If you have it on your roster, you can get a free oil change,” DeSmith said.

While the oil recycling station is free, YES students are hoping people will help contribute to a donation box at the site. DeSmith said the suggested donation is $1 for an oil filter, and 50 cents for antifreeze. The proceeds from the donations will go to help YES continue its efforts in the WWG community.

DeSmith said the students are in the process of brainstorming more things they can do for the community, and the environment.