A non-partisan, neutral perspective supporting diversity in the color of water

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Art of Recycling Waste

I substituted for a colleague while she conducted research in South America during the first couple of weeks of the winter 2012 term in a class titled The Surface of the Earth. The class is an entry into Physical Geography, and it was a great review for me since I never took the class as an undergraduate majoring in Geophysics - my advisor at the time indicated this stuff was beneath geophysicists. The students surprised me as they were very professional and mature as freshmen and sophomores, something much different than I have encountered in some of the upper level courses which is what I have been historically assigned to teach. Do students become corrupted with time at a university? I don't know the answer, but I enjoyed this experience very much simply because the students were gung-ho. So I gave opportunities for earning extra credit, and one was visiting one of the most interesting examples of recycling toxic waste and volunteerism I have ever witnessed while at the same time teaching about the Surface of the Earth, geography, and water resources. It is called the Eco-Earth and it is located in the Riverfront Park in Salem, Oregon.

The regional newspaper, Statesman Journal, ran a great series on the Eco-Earth ball, but here is the short story why it is one of the 160 reasons why we like living in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The before and after photos give one the idea of what transpired. A steel ball once used to store acid associated with manufacturing plywood was donated to the City of Salem as the manufacturing facility was being decommissioned. This is how I found it when I visited in late 1999-2000. At the time there was nothing but a four-by-four post stuck in the ground with a small placard describing what was envisioned for the rusting ball - make a globe out of tiles. The sign also asked for donations and ideas on how to design the tiles. If one was interested in donating money, they also asked if one wanted to dedicate their donation to a water feature like an ocean, lake, river, etc. I was working on a deep groundwater well near Oakley, Utah at the time called the "Humbug" well - a well about 1,600 feet deep targeting the limestones and dolomites of the Paleozoic Humbug formation, so I donated $50 and dedicated it to the Humbug Well. This well has its own unique story, but suffice it to say that it was productive, and yielded water of such excellent taste that it became the source of a brand of bottled water known as Park City IceWater or IceRok Glacier Water. The name has changed a few times, probably as the bottling plant changed owners. I regularly purchase it as part of my class lectures on bottled water.

When I visited the Eco-Earth upon its dedication in the Riverfront Park here is what it looked like. I am standing in front of the south-facing part of the Eco-Earth near southeast Asia.

As one walks around the Eco-Earth it lists some of the big time donors and their dedications. Imagine my surprise to find my name listed along with the dedication to the Oakley City Humbug Well shown here. Not bad for $50!

Oregon has a tourist promotion proclaiming "We love Dreamers". The many volunteer ceramicists who threw the nearly 86,000 tiles, geographers who made certain the globe was depicted correctly both geographically and to scale, and the many donors certainly lived up to the dream of recycling something great out of something that was an eyesore and potential liability for demolition and disposal.

And if the Eco-Earth is not enough to bring you to the Riverfront Park, check out the Chihuly blown glass sculpture (update - was removed due to insurance costs) within the carousel housing many beautiful hand carved wooden creatures.
* * *
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.
~Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax


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  2. Wow! The Eco-Earth Globe is really awesome. I just love the cleverness that some people have with recycling the madness of pollution.
    Some of the things I saw just recently in downtown St. Augustine were really clever. There were mirrors and picture frames that had bicycle inner tubes cut in strips and looped like half and eight. Some of the frames had three or more rows of these loops and they were just absolutely neat looking. With all the bikes and blown out inner tubes in Oregon I’m sure this could be a great green business venture, for an upcoming entrepreneur. Who knows maybe these frames were made in Oregon! There were also frames and boxes made with dominoes, rolled up colorful magazine paper and scrabble tiles. I also saw bowls and globes similar to Eco-Earth made of recycled colored glass pieces and earrings, pins and magnets out of the bottled beer metal tops.
    One very cool area located at the beach used recycled coarsely ground colored glass for the sidewalks, the glass actually looks like the typical green, brown and of course clear glass of beer and wine containers. I like how the sidewalk feels under my feet - very invigorating. Debora W.

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