I just put 14 ceramic coffee mugs in the dishwasher here at Audubon. This sink-full of mugs was generated by the crew of volunteers that meets here every Tuesday and Thursday to work on various buildings and grounds projects. At lunchtime, at least half of those people will have another cup of coffee producing seven more dirty mugs. Twenty-one mugs times two days per week times 52 weeks per year equals 2,184 cups.
I did a little Internet search to find that the cost of 8-ounce Styrofoam cups ranges from $12 to $30 for a box of 1,000. Trivial, right? For that small amount of cash, we could afford Styrofoam cups. That is not the point, however, for what is not trivial to us is the fact that those cups could last for 500 years or more in a landfill. So, we offer ceramic mugs to our volunteers instead. We offer cloth napkins for the same reason. Sharing coffee at Audubon is more than a social activity; it is an educational opportunity, a chance to reinforce that we have options and that our choices make a difference.
It isn't always practical to choose reusable dishware. We simply can't serve from our very small kitchen the hundreds of people who visit our festivals without resorting to disposable dishware, for example. And so another education process begins. We have to consider the cost and consequences of paper, plastic or polystyrene. And because technology and available products change so rapidly, those decisions have to be re-visited every couple of years. You can now find products that contain recycled content and others that are recyclable, compostable dishes made from potatoes or corn or fallen leaves, and you would not believe the debate that rages over edible dishes. This one costs less, that one requires more energy to produce, these will sit longest in the landfill ... and whatever choice we make sends a strong message because, as we all know, actions speak louder than words.
At the Audubon, Katie Finch teaches a group of students about winter animal tracks.
Education. It's so messy.
For the past four months, the staff at Audubon has been grappling with writing an education master plan that will take us into the next decade. We have gathered input and suggestions from our members and friends as well as from the greater community. We have sought the advice of professionals in our field and consulted the published research in our quest for best practices. We have revisited and reaffirmed our vision, values and mission. We are getting closer to clearly articulated goals and strategies to accomplish those goals. It's harder than you think.
You have to consider your message, as well as your means for delivering it. You have to consider that people learn in many different ways and come to you with various backgrounds. You have to consider that there are no hard and fast rights and wrongs. We choose ceramic mugs over polystyrene because of landfill issues. Equally strong arguments can be made in support of disposable dishware to combat energy use and water quality degradation that could result from washing all those ceramic mugs.
What to do, what to do? That is the question we have been asking ourselves for the last few months as we work on a formal education master plan to guide us into the next decade. The conversations have been exciting at times and frustrating at others as we clarify our mission and vision and articulate what exactly we want people to experience and learn and what actions we would like them to consider. There has been consensus; there has been disagreement. There has been celebration; there has been disappointment. In the end, I think we will be very happy with the plan, but getting there is difficult, because ...
Education is messy.
We are able to keep the cost of our educational programs affordable because of support from the Jessie Smith Darrah Fund, the Johnson Foundation, the Carnahan Jackson Foundation and the Holmberg Foundation.
Jennifer Schlick is program director at Audubon. The Audubon Center and Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren. Visit our website at www.jamestownaudubon.org or call 569-2345 to learn more.