Bettendorf High School science teacher Barb Jacobsen has been recycling since she was a teenager in the 1970s. She collected the big fruit and vegetable cans from her Kewanee high school’s cafeteria, stomped them flat and put them in a container for pick-up.
Her concern for resource conservation grew out of the way she was raised. Her parents lived through World War II, and “you didn’t throw things away,” she said. The ’70s also had ushered in a new awareness about the environment with the celebration of the first Earth Day.
When Jacobsen began her job at Bettendorf during the 1979-80 school year, she looked around to see what recycling opportunities were available in the community. She found that dedicated people had established a Saturday morning drop-off site at the city’s new public works facility along Devils Glen Road.
For about 15 years, she helped at the site, coordinating volunteers and providing a “helping set of hands” to assist people in unloading their car trunks, carrying their loads and sorting their items. Through the years, the site grew from just a trailer in the parking lot to one of the bays in the facility and then two bays. People were really interested in recycling, she said.
At the same time, she served on a city committee that helped plan the implementation of curbside recycling in Bettendorf, something that began in 1995.
She still recycles everything she can in her own home. She hopes that Scott County switches to a single-stream recycling program in which all numbers, or types, of plastic containers (except Styrofoam and bags) are accepted.
“It just irks me when I have to throw things away,” she said.
It also irks her when she sees other people throwing recyclables away, “when five more steps and there’s a recycling container.”
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The high school has containers for recycling paper and plastic bottles, and participation has been consistent, she said. But overall, she senses “we’re in a lull right now” with regard to young people and environmental action.
Some teens have the feeling that “if I can’t make a big splash, why bother?” she said.
“That’s a negative attitude, and I’m a very positive person. I think any little bit will help. The push really needs to be made that no matter how big or small, it makes a difference.”