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Spring cleaning starts a semester early for Environmental Task Force

In a wooded area off Poplar Avenue just behind Patapsco Hall 26 students traversed the spiny brush and uneven terrain to pick up a variety of litter — beer bottles, fast food wrappers and more. Some students even made the difficult journey to the other side of a nearby stream, where they slowly worked through a tall pile of bottles, cans and boxes.

“There’s a lot in this bush — I see you guys hacking away!” said Elizabeth Eakes, a sophomore global studies and environmental studies double major and the president of the Environmental Task Force, a student organization dedicated to keeping UMBC’s grounds healthy and trash-free. She was addressing a group of students cutting through a tough thicket to get to the bright blue Bud Light cans. This is a typical Friday afternoon for members of ETF; club members bearing buckets, trash bags, gloves and trash grabbers meet weekly to pick up litter in different areas across campus.

This was the club’s first official meeting since Involvement Fest (last week’s was canceled due to rain), and it was significantly better attended than usual — most clean-ups only have around 13 students. Eakes theorized that the recent Baltimore Sun article about ETF may have drawn some attention to the club.

The club is centered around the idea that its members can make a direct impact on the environment of UMBC’s campus and surrounding areas, according to Eakes. “A lot of us have passion for the environment, and we think taking action is the most important thing,” she said.

Other members agree. Sophie Shippe, a sophomore English and psychology double major, said she feels like the club’s clean-ups, “accomplish at least a little bit for the environment because that trash isn’t going into the bay.”

Though the club’s main projects are its weekly campus clean-ups, they are hoping to take their work off-campus to Patapsco State Park and areas in Baltimore for the first time ever this semester. Another change being implemented this year involves weighing how much garbage they collect each week. During the year’s first clean-up, they managed to collect 149 pounds of trash.

Eakes decided to start weighing trash in order to quantify the club’s impact on campus. She is also interested in looking at data about how much trash they collect in different campus locations. But the data also serves a larger purpose: “the facilities management at UMBC is also collecting this data through us to help fulfill stormwater permit requirements,” according to Eakes, “so it has a dual purpose.”

Though ETF may seem like they are fighting for environmental awareness, Eakes does not quite think the word “awareness” fits the club’s goal. She prefers to think of her objective as, “instilling care about the environment”. “Pretty much everyone is aware that the environment is having damage. Awareness isn’t the problem,” she stated, “I think that people actually taking action is what we need.”

Regardless of how you phrase it, the results are apparent. The weight of the trash collected during their most recent clean-up totaled 223 pounds, an estimated two-thirds of which was ultimately recycled. Perhaps more importantly, a number of new ETF members have been inducted, including sophomore anthropology and health administration and public policy double major Andy Dove.

“There’s a bunch of trash that I feel like I’m happy to come clean it up and help the environment in any way that I can,” Dove said with a smile. “Even though I have scratched myself a lot.” If that does not speak to ETF’s commitment to cleaning up the campus, what will?

If you too want to help make UMBC a greener and cleaner place, come to ETF’s weekly clean-ups, held Fridays at 3 p.m. The group meets at the bottom of the Commons near the Yum Shoppe, from which they depart to the clean-up site together.