COLUMBIA — Over the summer, a mountain of recycling grew on the Boone County Fairgrounds. Huge bags of bottles, boxes and cans were hauled across the grounds, all on the shoulders of one young man.
Michael York, 15, has spent the bulk of his summer break collecting recyclable materials at the Boone County Fairgrounds. Dean Sidener of Civic Recycling provided containers and recycling services for York, who is a Life Rank in the Boy Scouts. Sidener estimated that they brought in three to four tons of material. Nearly all of it was collected by York personally, mostly by hand.
York has been carrying out recycling projects since he was a Cub Scout. During a door-to-door food drive, his troop noticed a lot of bottles and cans in the neighborhood. They decided to collect recyclables at the same time as they collected food.
“The Boy Scout way is to ‘leave no trace,’ so why not pick up the recycling along the way?” his mother, Bonnie York, said.
York followed up with other recycling projects, including a door-to-door recycling service where he volunteered to pick up a household’s recycling, take it to the center, then return the money for them. His current project is a little simpler, but it takes just as much work.
“First we put out the bins, next we check bins, then we go to every single garbage can and take out the recycling,” York said. He encouraged the vendors and visitors in the Boone County Fair and the National Bikers Roundup to use the bins, and he soon had lots of participants.
“It started with one, then they all just followed suit,” Bonnie York said.
Bonnie York gets visibly excited when she talks about her son's future. She said she believes the dedication and work ethic he has shown will make him a prime recruit for colleges and universities.
"You tell me one college — Harvard, Yale, any of them — that's not going to want to snap that boy up?" she said proudly.
He certainly impressed the community members he worked with. When York approached Civic Recycling to ask for support, they offered him the use of several small bins. But as he collected more and more material, they realized they needed to provide more and bigger containers. They eventually offered York the use of one of their large roll-off bins to help contain the mountain of recyclables that was forming.
For Sidener, it was important to support a young person who was so dedicated to recycling. Offering bins to help York clean up the fairgrounds just made sense.
“We had kids motivated, so it was a pretty easy decision,” Sidener said.
Though hauling the recycling across the fairgrounds to a designated spot was sweaty, exhausting work, York thinks that sorting the recycling was the real headache.
“I think that’s the only pain of this project – sorting it,” he said.
York put his sorting time to good use, though. He decided while he was sorting all of the recyclables that he could collect valuable items for other projects. He collected eight coffee cans full of soda tabs, which can be used as a form of donation to the Ronald McDonald House. He also collected box tops that can be used for various school programs.
George Harris, General Manager of the Boone County Fairgrounds, said that there has never been such a large-scale recycling project at the fairgrounds before. Harris was impressed with York and his work ethic, noting that collecting the recycling was difficult and dirty.
“It’s nice to see a young man do that kind of work,” Harris said.
Even after all of that work, York still wants to expand his recycling efforts. He wants to start a shoe recycling drive, based on Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program. He also would like to encourage individual households to recycle by starting a program like RecycleBank, which rewards participating households with credits that can be used at local businesses.
York's recycling projects could put him on track to earn the prestigious William T. Hornaday award, which recognizes exceptional efforts in conservation. Only 1,100 medals have been awarded during the past 80 years, according to the Boy Scouts of America website. The site compares the Hornaday award to “an Olympic medal bestowed by the Earth.”