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Environmental task force strives to beautify campus

Pig Pen Pond is a site of UMBC research. Photo by James Gallagher.

Environmental task force strives to beautify campus

If you went to collect trash on campus, what would you expect to find? Food waste and soda cans? During any given clean-up, eco-conscious students will stumble upon things like abandoned pipes, tires, fire hydrants or even toilets.

“We’ve collected enough chairs to have our own meeting,” said sophomore political science major Bergren Cliff. “And it’s not just folding chairs. We find nice upholstered ones, too.”

The Environmental Task Force ventures out every Wednesday and Friday for an hour-long campus clean-up. Each day, they focus on a single area like Herbert Run, Pig Pen Pond or some of the wooded areas around campus. They try to focus their efforts on areas where they haven’t spent as much time or where they notice trash.

In years past, the club did more projects outside the loop; however, changing leadership resulted in a shift in club direction. Now, ETF focuses their efforts on restoring on-campus spaces. The group plans to attend the People’s Climate March on April 29 in Washington, D.C.

While there are around 20 club members total, turnout for clean ups varies based on weather conditions and academic schedules. However, the club welcomes all interested students to join the group at any point, which departs from the stairs by the Yum Shoppe at 4:00 p.m. for each clean-up.

Club officers stressed that interested students need not be experts in environmental science: “[ETF] is basically for anyone who likes to go outside,” said ETF president, sophomore Zach Grzywacz. “Half of it is exploring campus.”

Several members are environmental science majors, but the group is diverse and includes art history, mechanical engineering and political science majors.

The group collects around 20 pounds of trash at their smallest clean-ups, but not all their findings end up in the dumpster. Sophomore biology major Matt Brown collects rebar, a metal used to stabilize concrete. Thanks to a blacksmithing course, he recycles the metal found at clean-ups and makes it in to keys and arrowheads.

Their benevolence is not limited to picking up trash; ETF members also control harmful invasive species. English ivy, an evergreen vine, wraps around trees eventually choking them to death. On their clean-ups, members cut the ivy with small saws. According to one member, cutting out a six-inch gap from the vine prevents further growth and saves the life of the affected tree.

Larry Hennessey, an associate director for quality management in Facilities Management, stumbled upon the students as they were cutting away the ivy. He expressed interest in their work and decided to join them. Now, the club makes use of his tools and vehicle to make the trash-hauling process more efficient. According to the students, he has become the “patron saint” of the organization.

“While picking up trash sounds like a lot of work, it’s actually fun,” said Grzywacz. “Being in ETF has been the highlight of my UMBC experience.”