CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — Nearly a dozen Penn State Lehigh Valley students got up early on March 16 to drive an hour to Tacony Creek Park in the Philadelphia area. The students did not go there to enjoy the park or walk the trails; instead they went to participate in an annual clean-up event, collecting more than 100 pounds of trash.
When they arrived, the students, from meteorologist Drew Anderson's sustainability geography class, saw an astounding amount of trash along and in the Tacony Creek. Before walking the trails, the students received supplies from Maria McDonald, clean-up operations coordinator from United By Blue, a Philadelphia-based sustainable clothing company.
The students were not alone. They joined about 200 other volunteers from other schools, communities and non-profit organizations.
“It’s amazing to see all these people come to one park from all over just to help,” said Fatima Alba, corporate communication major at Penn State Lehigh Valley. “This was a very different experience for me, a good one at that.”
United By Blue choose the location so that the park is clean enough for a future Spring 5K run.
“The challenge is funding and getting donations to fund the work, so we work around that in a strategic way and attach that to our mission,” McDonald said. “With every item we sell, we will remove a pound of trash from outdoor recreation spaces.”
Since then, and over the past nine years, 1,584,581 pounds of trash have been removed. The company’s main focus is to make a long-term impact on the environment by doing the clean-ups themselves, along with the help of others in the community.
“I usually sleep in on the weekends,” said Rhiana Bergeman, corporate communication major at Penn State Lehigh Valley. “Seeing everyone come together wanting to help the environment makes me really happy as well. It was fun!”
The geography students were all surprised at how quickly they made a difference, too.
While the optional field trip did count as a project grade in their class, there were other and more meaningful reasons motivating the students to drive an hour and participate in this local clean-up.
“It was really a great learning opportunity,” said Lehigh Valley student Joseph Anasti.
By the end of the morning, thousands of pounds of litter were removed from Tacony Creek Park by all the volunteers. Most of what was removed will be recycled, including plastic, paper and rubber.