By REBECCA TURNER
Armed with knit gloves and garbage bags, UT students collected tires, tennis rackets, large plastic planters and much more from the banks of the Hillsborough River on Saturday Sept. 17 as part of a county-wide cleanup.
The 33 students volunteered at one of two sites with Better Together, Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) and PEACE, three organizations at UT.
PEACE is the volunteer center on campus that aims to increase student volunteerism and offers many service opportunities, including alternative breaks, to students.
SEAC wants to change the world for the better through environmental action. The organization’s plans for the semester include working to expand the Vaughn recycling program and donating leftover food from on-campus dining locations to local children in need.
Better Together is an organization dedicated to promoting dialogue between people of different spiritual and non-spiritual beliefs. The group meets biweekly in Sykes Chapel 107.
The group that volunteered through PEACE worked at McKay Bay Nature Park, while the other half wrestled with mangrove trees for garbage on South Bermuda Boulevard.
“I really wanted to do something different, and so we partnered up with SEAC and PEACE,” said Ioana Zanchi, junior political science and philosophy major and head of Better Together. “So we’re working all together to promote interfaith dialogue as well as environmental actions and efforts. A lot of these components are like a puzzle and they all kind of play a role and work together to make a better community as a whole.”
Zanchi’s efforts and planning over her summer break made it possible for the three UT organizations to join together for this volunteer event. She hopes that people will consider how their beliefs and morals, whatever they are, play into their volunteer work.
Zanchi volunteered with the group on South Bermuda. It was one of the larger sites organized by Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, with approximately 100 volunteers, according to Lance Misztal, one of the lead volunteers on site.
“We have a really big turn-out,” Misztal said. “But I think that we’re going to make a pretty positive impact on Bermuda Boulevard and hopefully make our streets a bit cleaner in the future.”
Last year in the county-wide cleanup, 5,000 people worked at 80 locations and bagged 90,000 pounds of garbage along the Hillsborough River.
Misztal and Kathi Garden, director of marketing and special events and public relations for IKEA, directed volunteers on site. As part of her position, Garden works with the IKEA’s sustainability committee. Other members of the committee were also on site for the event.
“We’ve actually adopted this whole side of the road for IKEA,” Garden said, referring to South Bermuda. “So, we come out four times a year and do the cleanups.”
Even with volunteers coming out four times throughout the year, there was still quite a lot of garbage to bag. County-wide totals for this year were not available in time for publication, but at the South Bermuda site the garbage included 944 styrofoam items, 861 plastic bottles, 501 plastic bottle caps, 345 food wrappers and 334 plastic bags, according to Misztal.
Volunteers piled the garbage bags along the road beside larger items, including a muck-covered couch and various car parts.
“I thought it was awesome,” said Lauren Twele, the SEAC president and sophomore marine science and biology major. “We got so much trash. I had no idea it was going to be actually in the mangrove tunnels, but I’m so proud of everybody for just getting in there and getting dirty.”
Freshman psychology major Kassandra Ramsdell was one of the UT students who climbed in between the mangrove trees to toss up trash to other students who waiting with garbage bags.
“It was really humid and wet in there and there was a lot of bugs and a lot of trash,” Ramsdell said. “Oh, and crabs.”
Even after facing the unanticipated animal life, Ramsdell had only positive things to say of her experience as a cleanup volunteer.
“It was really fulfilling,” Ramsdell said. “I got to meet new people and clean up some trash, get some fresh air. I enjoyed it.”
On the bus ride back to campus after more than two hours in the hot sun, the sweaty, mud-covered and tired students discussed the things they had found. SEAC members asked the students if they felt they had made a positive impact and there was an affirmative consensus, due to the shear amount of garbage picked up.
Twele praised the students for their hard work, but also mentioned that much of the garbage collected would have washed up there, having come from the river or even the ocean, meaning that even actions outside of Hillsborough County can affect our coastline.
“Don’t litter,” Ramsdell said. “I know that now. There was a ton of trash down there.”
SEAC, PEACE and Better Together hope to make students realize that it is a much larger issue than just the Hillsborough River and that impacting the environment begins at the local level. For more information on the organizations’ individual work this semester or for information regarding meetings, contact the presidents of Better Together. (firstname.lastname@example.org), PEACE (email@example.com) or SEAC (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Rebecca Turner can be reached at email@example.com