Commonwealth Journal

April 18, 2013

SCC to hold Earth Day celebration

Eighth-annual event will be Sunday at college; focus on sustainability

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

The three Rs — reuse, repurpose, and recycle — are words to live by, and this weekend, you’ll get the chance to see how and why those ideas are so important. 
Now in its eighth year, the Somerset Community College Earth Day Celebration will feature some returning favorites and a few new exhibits that will help visitors learn more about sustainability. 
The idea of power — how to generate, and the energy needed to do so — will be the focus on two presentations, according to Loris Sherman, SCC biology professor and chair of the Earth Day Celebration planning committee. 
Sherman said a demonstration wind farm will be shown during the event, thanks to representatives with the U.S. Green Building Council and Siemens AG, a global business that specializes in electronics and electrical engineering and operates in the industry, energy and healthcare sectors. 
“They’re going to set us up a mini wind farm,” said Sherman. 
Wind farms have consistently made headlines as a possible alternative to fossil fuels for energy use. 
Sherman said some of the school’s faculty members and students also worked together to build hand generators “ ... so the community can see how much manpower it takes to power a light bulb or a small appliance.”
Demonstrators will crank or pedal their generators to produce electricity. 
The demonstration can prove a powerful one in showing just how much energy it takes to power everything in our daily lives — homes, cars, Smartphones and computers, and more. 
Perhaps one of the more, ahem, unique exhibits to appear at the popular event will be a composting toilet. The idea developed during a panel discussion on sustainability, according Sherman. 
Apparently, it’s possible to be sustainable in all areas of life.
“It’s a very nice solution if you’re building a cabin where you want to apply an environmentally friendly solution,” said Sherman. 
A sister college to SCC in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System will demonstrate something called “plarn” — yarn made out of plastic bags. Plarn is made by cutting plastic grocery bags into strips. Those strips can then be strung together into one strand, and crocheted into a myriad of objects. Purses and other bags, and even shoes, are just a few items that can result from used grocery bags. 
Sherman said plarn is an example of reusing and repurposing.
“That is even better than recycling,” said Sherman. “There’s so much less impact on the environment.”
While recycling is an important tool for sustainability, machines must still be used to make used items, such as paper, plastic and glass, into items appropriate for reuse. That means that a carbon footprint still exists. Still, that impact is no doubt significantly smaller than if those items are simply disposed of and left to degrade into the environment, releasing toxic chemicals and endangering fragile ecosystems. 
Another new organization ready to show its support of sustainability is the Pulaski County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP) Board. The non-profit organization has been leading an ongoing effort called the “Prescription Drug Take-Back Program” that features safe drop-off points for unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
“Their perspective is safety,” said Sherman, “but the reason why it’s important to Earth Day is people think the best thing to do with these medicines is flush them.
“That isn’t the best thing,” continued Sherman. “Our water treatment plants aren’t designed to eliminate those molecules.”
Flushing medicines can introduce a significant number of chemicals into the water supply, and even into other parts of the environment (such as the soil). The manufactured substances are not only consumed by humans through the water supply, but consumed by wildlife as well. 
And Sherman said a dialogue has been ongoing about antibiotic resistance based on the idea that the medicines are introduced to bacteria in the water. While some of that bacteria may be killed, others can adapt to resist the medicines, and then multiply, creating new strains of highly-resistant bacteria. 
The Pulaski County ASAP has partnered with local police to establish several drop-off locations for unused medicines. 
The Earth Day Celebration will feature a popular exhibit — rain barrels — except this time there’s a twist. While the barrels had been sold in the past, 15 of them will be given away this year thanks to a grant through the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance (SEEA). Sherman said tickets will be given to all attendees, and the barrels — constructed and painted by SCC students — will be given away by raffle at 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. during the event on Sunday. 
“They will already be completely constructed,” said Sherman. 
The SEEA grant has also allowed the planning committee to purchase a number of river birch and eastern redbud seedlings to give away, and heirloom tomato plants will also be available. 
Local gardeners and farmers will also demonstrate the benefits of local food production. 
And the grant also made several projects possible to SCC students, including those in Sherman’s “Special Problems in Biology” class. Students will present a demonstration on aquaponics, which is a sustainable food production system. 
Sunday’s festivities will feature the usual suspects as well, a group of exhibitors that have consistently been some of the most popular. 
Sherman said The Kentucky Reptile Zoo is always a hit among the event’s attendees. Reptiles such as an albino Burmese python, an American Alligator and a blue-tongued skink were some of the more popular creatures available in the past few years. 
Also a hit is the Southwestern High School Raptor Club, which is well known in the area and has become a nationally-recognized program. Students in the club care for and work with a number of wild birds, many of which will never be returned to the wild due to injuries or behavioral issues that would make them unable to survive. Owls, golden eagles, a bald eagle and falcons have been and still are tenants in the bird shelters at SWHS, and club members will be showing off a few of the raptors at the event. 
The Lake Cumberland Beekeepers’ Association will attend again, with a demonstration on how to keep bees — a physically tiny, but hugely significant species to the environment — for the physically challenged. 
Local musicians will also perform, along with “Sogo Drums,” an African drumming band. 
And the STAR Lab, a portable planetarium, is back again this year.
“We got some disappointed people last year when we didn’t have it,” said Sherman.
The SCC Culinary Arts Program will serve food samples as well, and nature walks and the “Redbud Run” will be held at SCC’s nature trail. 
Sherman’s hopes that the community feel a sense of ownership over the Earth Day Celebration seems to be coming to fruition, and she said she’s looking forward to seeing what this year’s even brings.
“We want the community to feel like it’s their event,” said Sherman. “And it seems we have people contacting us to say they want to present, not the other way around.”
The event will be held rain or shine (exhibits will be moved inside in the case of inclement weather) at the SCC North Campus on Sunday, April 21, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.