By Casey Rives, Contributing Writer
Last year, Prince William County celebrated its 40th anniversary of Earth Day.a day dedicated to preserving the environment and educating residents about how to decrease their pollution output and conserve energy, water and other natural resources. This year, the county will be celebrating Earth Day once again in the hopes of getting the attention of county residents and educating them about how to better treat the Earth.
We have a program that starts in March called Six Weeks to Make a Difference, said Deb Oliver, public outreach and education director of the Prince William County Department of Public Works. Basically, residents have the opportunity to volunteer within the county and help conserve the environment.Anyone can volunteer and its free.
The Six Weeks to Make a Difference program consists of activities for residents and families, including tree planting, litter pick-up and graffiti removal. Anyone can help; there’s no age restriction for volunteers. According to Oliver, ”e events help residents build a connection with the environment.
The county Public Works office offers many events throughout the year to teach locals how to clean up their county and help preserve the environment. In November 2009, Prince William County was awarded a platinum level excellence award for completing the Green Government Challenge. The challenge is provided by the Virginia Municipal League Go Green initiative (GoGreenVa). (Greenguidelines can be found online at www.gogreenva.org.)
“Our green programs are year-round, really,” explained Oliver.“We sponsor a green initiative by helping to ensure that government employers and coworkers are educated in energy conservation. We want our employees to drive wiser and carpool,Reduce their waste by recycling and, overall, conserve our environment. We help to educate by doing.”
The first aspect of Earth Day is to create a sense of community among Prince William County residents through events, presentations and volunteer work.
“I think it’s important to show people that they can make a difference,said Oliver. We help show people where they can get involved.”
Last year, Prince William County Public Works did a workshop with local students and concentrated on their views of the environment. Students were asked to express their worries for the environment and how they though those problems could be solved.
“It was surprising to see how concerned the youth of today are for our environment,” said Oliver. they really understand. The majority of students were concerned about wildlife and what the future of our wildlife would be. And these ideas came from a large variety of Prince William County youth. We had homeschoolers, high school students, Cub Scouts, and 4-H members.”
Both Public Works and the Prince William Clean Community Council believe in educating children at a young age.
“Habits start at a young age and I think the more we educate children in school or while they’re still young, the more the idea of protecting the Earth will come natural to them,”said Kayne Karnbach, director of programs for the Prince William Clean Community Council. The clean council offers a variety of programs for both adolescents and adults. Families are Encouraged to take part in the Adopt a Spot program, which allows for volunteers to be responsible for picking up litter from the adopted area within the county.
“Anybody can volunteer; we have so many different programs to educate the community,” said Karnbach. “Our new storm drain program focuses on placing plaques or stencils on storm drains to politely remind residents that items placed in the drain will end up in local waters—polluting them.”
Many schools take part in Earth Day and have incorporated earth-friendly activities in which students can engage in the days leading up to the April 22 celebration.
“For Earth Day, we read books about taking care of the Earth and the importance of recycling or reusing,” said LeAnn Nelson, a kindergarten teacher at George Mullen Elementary School in Manassas. “We walk around the school building looking for trash—I let the students point out the trash and I place it in a bag for disposal. We discuss that not only is trash ugly but it is harmful to the birds and squirrels.”
Public Works offers a Youth Ambassadorsf Conference on the Environment annually so that the youth of the county can also have a hand in keeping the environment clean.
“Our county is beautiful – kids should get outside and enjoy every aspect of it,” said Oliver. There are so many great parks and nature is a source of rejuvenation for people – we need it. Our Public Works site has a page dedicated on ways to get kids out and about in the environment”
How to Make a Difference
It is important to conserve energy, water and other natural resources year-round, and Earth Day should serve as a reminder for everyone to do their part in making that happen. Many energy saving processes can be found online at www.pwcgov.org, but Oliver suggests the following:
Conserve energy. Turn off lights, cut heat back and unplug unused electronics. Not only do such energy-saving techniques help protect the environment, they also help to save money on electric bills.
Plan driving trips. Keep cars well-maintained, buy energysaving vehicles, and know where you are going. If possible, carpool. the idea here is to reduce pollution in the environment.
Reduce Waste. Recycle as much as possible. ð”e more we recycle, the fewer landfills we have to create.
Use the correct amount of fertilizer. Use only a small amount to ensure that runoff does not end up in the county’s watersheds, which lead to the Chesapeake Bay. In addition,Residents are encouraged to plant native plants to prevent erosion.
“A lot of the conservation initiatives are just thinking about things to change a natural behavior,” said Oliver.
Local businesses can also help in preserving the planet by participating in energy saving processes.
There are many new tax benefits out there for individuals who choose to be energy friendly and go green,”said Donna Wood, CPA/PFS, CFPR, with Wood Smith Associates LLC, in Haymarket. Last year, the IRS added many additional tax credits for households and businesses that were either using energysaving appliances or recycling.
Chip Ashton, owner of Speedy Green Car Wash in Manassas City, an all-green business that collects all used water, recycles and reuses it, said more businesses should recycle.
Ashton’s new carwash facility offers a special filtration system which filters storm drain water on the buildings lot.” It cuts down on sewer system usage and conserves water,” he said. The filtration system helps keep waste from entering the local creeks and streams.”
Recycling helps to reduce pollution and limit the amount of landfills needed—leaving more room for open space, playgrounds and parks.
“Recycling is extremely important because so many materials are reusable,” said Karnbach. “It’s something that everyone can do and it benefits everyone as a whole.”
Many disposal services offer recycling programs and additional containers can be provided for recycled materials.
Glass bottles, aluminum cans, plastic jugs and newspaper are just a few of the many recyclable items used by the average household,and Prince William County offers many drop-off sites for recycled materials throughout the county, including the following:
Birchdale Recreation Center: 14730 Birchdale Ave.Dale City, Va
Balls Ford Road Compost Facility: 13000 Balls Ford Rd. Manassas, VA
Commuter lot at Route 123 and Old Bridge Road in Occoquan/Lake Ridge area
It’s important to remember that, prior to placing items into recycling bins, caps should be removed from bottles any bottles that once contained chemicals should be rinsed out.
The less we put in landfills, the less trash there is out there,” said Sandi Kern, office manager of Charlie & Son Trash Service, in Woodbridge, which offers curbside recycling services to its clients. “If we keep throwing everything away then landfills will have to close and more will be created.”
Kern said people recycle more now than they used to.”I think there has become a higher awareness of what recycling is,” she said. The environment is important and recycling is a great place to start. Other places are having problems with space. We don’t want that, we want to have plenty of room for our kids to grow and play without pollution.”
Volunteering to Improve the County
While volunteer efforts have increased over the past few years, both Prince William County Public Works and the Prince William Clean Community Council need additional residents who are interested in volunteering. Many opportunities are available for volunteers and many programs open to volunteers have no set schedule.
“Volunteering to improve our county is something that makes people feel good,” said Oliver. “We have many returning volunteers—students who come back and bring family members, and that’s what we need. We need word of mouth so others want to come out and help, then we can educate more people.”
Prince William County is a unique place in Northern Virginia. While many cities are located within the county, there is still an enormous area of rural communities and land. Wildlife protection and litter removal are only two things needed to preserve the community in which you live. For more information on how to help, contact Deb Oliver at (703) 792-6819.
Writer Casey Rives, who resides in Haymarket, Va., received her degree in communications from George Mason University in 2012.