UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The average person produces 4.5 pounds of trash per day — roughly equal to a standard bag of flour, according to the Pennsylvania 4-H State Council — and not all of this trash ends up in a garbage can. This fact prompted the council to challenge 4-H members across the state to clean up parks and other public places in their communities by collecting trash.
Each year, the council facilitates a statewide service project. The idea to focus on trash collection this year arose after council members selected their theme for the year: “Explore Your Path.”
“We wanted 4-H’ers to explore the opportunities within various project areas but also in their own communities,” said Alice Polcrack of Sullivan County, the council’s president. “Many youths do not spend much time outside, and we wanted to change that during our term. We hoped this project would encourage more youth to explore their communities, help develop more of an appreciation for the environment and increase service-learning opportunities for 4-H’ers.”
The council aimed to address growing environmental concerns in an effective and accessible way. “Picking up litter is something almost anyone can do, even if it is something as small as putting one piece of garbage in the trash while walking,” Polcrack said.
Clean and well-maintained environments help keep places pleasant for hiking, picnicking, playing sports and enjoying the outdoors, the council noted.
“The impact is seen right there in their own communities,” said Cassidy Baker, Penn State Extension 4-H and youth development educator based in Lawrence County. “They’re giving back directly in the areas where they live.”
Examples of places to clean up include parks, city sidewalks, beaches, creeks, lakes, rivers and outside of shopping centers or malls.
If 4-H’ers would like to participate, the council recommends first checking with local waste authorities or park staff about how to dispose of trash properly. Then 4-H members can gather their 4-H club, a group of 4-H friends or family members to collect trash using standard 30-gallon trash bags. Council members encourage 4-H’ers to wear gloves for safety and cleanliness.
After collecting trash, 4-H’ers can report the number of bags collected and take photos of their collection to help track the project’s impact.
At the conclusion of the State Council term during the State Leadership Conference this winter, the council will highlight the top five collection groups.
Sam Nicola, 4-H youth development educator in Northumberland County, helps advise 4-H State Council. “Beyond just cleaning up parks and roads, the project provides a great way to get out and get involved,” he said, noting the opportunities for fresh air, exercise and connecting with others.
The challenge kicked off in May, with a reported 110 bags collected so far. Polcrack encouraged 4-H’ers to keep sending their results.
“When it comes to conservation, any contribution is incredibly helpful, so we greatly appreciate seeing submissions of all quantities,” she said. “There is still time before winter arrives, so get out there and help us keep our state beautiful.”
Administered in Pennsylvania by Penn State Extension, 4-H is a nonformal educational youth-development program of the United States Department of Agriculture that helps young people develop knowledge and skills to become capable, caring and contributing citizens. To find your local program, visit the Penn State Extension website at https://extension.psu.edu/
–Alexandra McLaughlin, Penn State University