COLUMBIA — What began as a temporary Boy Scouts project for one teen has turned into an ongoing recycling program at Boone County Fairgrounds.
Since March, Hickman High School student Michael York has recycled tons of waste at the fairgrounds. Now, the fairgrounds want him to continue the project.
York, 15, typically spends anywhere from four to 10 hours per day at least three days a week sorting through garbage at the fairgrounds. On average, he collects 1,000 pounds of recyclables per month; during the summer, that number can stretch to as much as three tons.
But for York, this is only the beginning.
“Now this fairground has gone green, I want other fairgrounds to go green, too,” said York, whose 12-year-old brother, Sheridan, often tags along and helps with his work.
George Harris, general manager at the Boone County Fairgrounds, said he was glad that York and his brother were willing to recycle at the fairgrounds, where Missouri’s largest county fair is hosted.
“We don’t have time to recycle,” Harris said. “We have to clean up from one event to another. They have the time to go through it after we clean up. It’s been great for all of us.”
The project began in 2009 as a way to earn a Boy Scouts conservation award called the William T. Hornaday Award, York said. Now, York views the effort as his personal mission.
“People like the idea of recycling but don’t like the work,” York said.
The work isn't easy. York has had to dig through bags of waste, where he sticks his hands into used diapers, baby bottles and used veterinary syringes. That is often what it takes, he said, to find recyclable items, which he then sorts into cardboard, aluminum, glass and plastic.
“At first I thought recycling was the easiest thing to do," York said. "Now, I don’t think so."
Sometimes he discovers items that neither belong to the waste nor recyclable categories such as; brand-new leather gloves, pocket knives and unopened medical kits. York donates these miscellaneous items to Goodwill.
The teen said he spends most of his time recycling at the fairgrounds after he comes home from school and finishes his homework.
But the project has become much more than an after-school activity. To help York with his recycling efforts, the family has moved to the fairgrounds in a RV.
“Recycling used to be a project," said his mother, Bonnie York. "Now, it’s part of our lives.”
Impressed by York’s work, Civic Recycling, a local recycling center, has asked him to lead a youth recycling team. He will visit schools teaching students about recycling and encouraging them to participate.
“I want to encourage people to recycle,” he said. “I want everyone who comes to the fairgrounds to know about this project.”