Feature Article - November 2011
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Green For Green's Sake

Eco-Friendly Facilities & Operations Yield Economic, Environmental Savings

By Wynn St. Clair

In Preble County, Ohio, park officials tackled a different kind of waste in a green way. The park district recently installed an environmentally friendly toilet that uses no electricity, water or chemicals in Allen & Adaline Garber Nature Center. The eco-savvy commode does not discharge liquids, chemicals, sewage or odors into the environment, minimizing many of the inconveniences of the traditional portable restrooms.

Although not a composting toilet, Preble County's new restroom treats and stabilizes human waste through dehydration and evaporation. The waste is reduced into an inoffensive, dry, ash-like material, which is then disposed of according to local county, state and federal regulations.

When Preble County purchased the environmentally friendly toilet for its nature center, the restrooms were relatively new to the Ohio market with only one other park using them. Though there is always some risk with being a trailblazer, park officials did their homework and decided the toilets would be the best way to protect the nature center creek that feeds into Twin Creek, one of the state's best streams of its size in terms of water quality and which carries the designation of being an exceptional warm water habitat.

"As a park district we try to do everything we can to be environmentally friendly, and this installation seemed to be an acceptable solution to a difficult problem," said Mary Hayes, the park district's grant manager.

The restroom, which is handicap-accessible, is located about half-mile from the nature center building, in a forested area where a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk and hiking trails exist. With no utilities out there—no water, no electricity, no gas—it would have been cost-prohibitive to dig a well and run underground power lines to the site, Hayes said. With the eco-friendly restroom, all the district needed to do was obtain a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The facilities also have won rave reviews—something recreation managers rarely hear when it comes to outdoor toilets.

"When one talks about parks and restrooms, the images of an outhouse or a concrete enclosure automatically come to mind," Hayes said. "But everyone who visits our (new restroom) is amazed."

When embarking on initiatives such as these, it's important for recreation managers to demonstrate and instill in patrons the importance of creating a sustainable environment. The Rockford (Illinois) Park District's dedication to this idea is reflected in the rules for birthday parties at SportsScore Two, a recreational activity complex with 19 regulation soccer fields and 14 outdoor practice fields, five sand volleyball courts and an indoor sports center containing three multi-sport surfaces.

Though the park district has an overall environmentally friendly perspective, SportsScore Two takes it an ambitious step further with its party packages. The complex has the impressive goal of hosting parties in which the only waste products created are recycled napkins, which even then only fill up half a lunch bag.

"We decided to do this because our park district is really trying to do green," said Becky Starks of the Rockford Park District. "We decided if we started out young by concentrating on our youth, they would continue throughout their lives."

The facility does not use any paper plates or Styrofoam at parties, opting instead to scoop ice cream into dishes made of recyclable materials. When the parties end, the staff carefully sort and separate the waste, designating them for the recycling bins or compost heaps.

Organizers rely upon reusable party decorations such as biodegradable balloons and colorful table linens to create a festive atmosphere. The chairs in the room also have been reupholstered with—what else?—recycled fabric.

"Our party decorations are even made with felt so they are all also reusable," Starks said. "Everything down to the pińatas are made from recycled materials."

To discourage guests from bringing presents covered in gift wrap, the complex offers a 10 percent discount to anyone who brings their gift wrapped in a brown paper bag. This particular initiative has led to a lot of spirited and creative decorating on the kids' part, Starks said.

"We're really trying to educate kids because the more we recycle, the more green we can be and the better that is for everyone," she said.