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Student Advocates for Recycling

When he was a high school student, Jacob Berger picked a senior project that would impact the entire community of Willow Springs. KSMU's Missy Shelton has the story.

When Jacob Berger had to come up with a senior project for his final year at Willow Springs High School, he knew he wanted to focus on the environment. With the help of his mentor, he decided to see if he could get a recycling program re-started in his hometown.

“I remember a time when the school system had paper recycling, and the city had collections of recycling.”

But that was years earlier. By the time Jacob was a high school senior, during the 2007-2008 school year, anyone who wanted to recycle had to go out of town.

“It was frustrating, I guess. The closest recycling center is Mountain View so everybody who had an interest in recycling was saving up their truckloads and then hauling it 16 miles from Willow to Mountain View.”

Jacob staked his senior project on the idea that Willow Springs was ready for its own recycling center.Jacob set out to convince the city that it was time to revive the recycling program. He knew he’d eventually have to go before city council to pitch the idea, but first, he asked for advice elsewhere.

“The first group I went to was the Willow Springs Community Foundation. I thought they would be a good place to start getting criticism and critiques to know what to expect when I went in front of city council to do it. They were really supportive and liked it. They helped come up with solutions to problems.”

Jacob did a lot of research, especially looking at the costs associated with re-starting the recycling program. Then, it was time to go before city council. His mentor, Mac Gum, who was principal of the local middle school at the time, came with him. Jacob says it helped having Mac along with him.

“I was really nervous. Mac went with me, which really helped give me confidence as well as give me more respect with the city council because I was sort of the young, enthusiastic presenter but Mac was supportive of me. He had more of a reputation, was older and respected in the community so that helped me a lot, I think.”

Initially, Berger says he didn’t find widespread support for recycling when he made his case to city council. But in the end, well, Jacob took me to the Willow Springs Recycling Center.After his presentation to council, a committee met to study the issue, a community member donated collection bins, and the city agreed to provide a staffer to bail the materials people bring in for recycling. Residents can now recycle paper, cardboard, certain plastics, aluminum, and tin. Jacob says he believes it’s worth putting time and energy into a cause you support.“I’m of the mind that even if we can’t make a change, there’s no reason to go around acting as if we can’t. You can only try and see if it does happen.”

Jacob Berger is now a student at Missouri State, where he’s involved in several environmental clubs. He has even participated in dumpster diving to find materials in trash cans that can be recycled. He says he wants to continue to raise awareness about this very important issue.