If you’ve attended a major outdoor event in Sioux Falls, you’ve seen them. Men and women in fluorescent green, milling amongst the crowd, picking up discarded items and sticking around to clean up. They’re the Ecomaniacs and they’re the unsung heroes of the local festival circuit.

The group is a volunteer-driven nonprofit dedicated to creating a better community by setting a good example. Last yearalone, they recycled nearly nine tons of material gathered at summer events.

“Our mission is to empower youth and adults through education and a call to action to participate in an environmentally responsible community,” explained Ecomaniacs treasurer and Millennium Recycling president Jake Anderson.

Originally formed in 2008 as “Trash Talkers,” a trademark conflict forced the group to adopt a new moniker in 2011. However, the mission has not changed. In addition to having a presence at events like the 605 Summer Classic, RibFest, Riverfest, the Sioux Empire Fair, and JazzFest, Ecomaniacs partners with schools to address the importance of environmental stewardship amongst young people.

One startling statistic that the group hopes the public keeps in mind is that roughly 80 percent of our household trash is recyclable, yet we only actually recycle about 30 percent. That means tons of trash is needlessly winding up in our landfills every year. According to the Ecomaniacs website, “when people see trash on the ground daily, they become blind to it,” so simple awareness is half the battle.

Anderson says that during cleanups, the group has found all sorts of items (some which he doesn’t feel comfortable mentioning in print), but some of the most common are food wrappers, bottles and cans. The most prevalent pieces of trash picked up, however, are cigarette butts. Many smokers discard them on the ground and out car windows without a second thought, but the truth is these tiny bits of trash are just that. Some erroneously believe filters are made from cotton, but in reality, they are made from plastic, and take just as long as any other piece of plastic to biodegrade.

Although Ecomaniacs is comprised of several highly dedicated volunteers, they are always on the lookout for help. Those interested in living in a clean, healthy community can give in a couple of ways. First, individual and group volunteers are always welcome to participate in cleanups. Second, the group relies on donations from organizations and individuals. These funds are used to develop its recycling education curriculum, and to spread the message of environmental responsibility to more community members.

And finally, taking time to learn which items are recyclable and using trash receptacles appropriately is the ultimate expression of love for the community and the Earth. The implementation of single stream recycling, wherein we put all of our recyclable items in one bin, has increased the practice significantly. But, Ecomaniacs believe, without continued education and awareness, no recycling program can succeed in the long run.

Anderson summed it up, “We believe that conservation and sustainability aren’t dirty words, but the foundation for a clean city with a high quality of life.”

Learn more about Ecomaniacs and how you can help at ecomaniacssd.org.

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