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Getting Kids (Re)Used To Recycling

Exhibits At Trash Museum In Hartford Demonstrate The Art Of Conservation

November 12, 2006
By ERIC GERSHON, Courant Staff Writer

In the home of the Temple of Trash and The Big Green Machine, Cyril the Sorcerer spun a tale of a wizard who gave new life to the garbage of ogres.

Then he asked the assembled Cub Scouts and Brownies and Boy Scouts to behold the tool that would endow them, too, with the power to transform - a blue curbside recycling bin.

"This is your magic box," said the pony-tailed magician, aka C.J. May, Yale University's full-time recycling coordinator who delivered a special performance Saturday at the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority Visitors Center & Trash Museum in Hartford.

Rarely open on weekends, the Murphy Road facility opened its doors in honor of "America Recycles Day," this coming Wednesday.

The authority, a quasi-public agency that disposes of trash and sorts recyclables from around the state, opened the Trash Museum in 1993. It also runs a Garbage Museum in Stratford. Admission is free and open to the public several days a week.

Although Cyril didn't levitate or saw anyone in half Saturday morning - "I'm an amateur, not David Copperfield," he said - Bianca Tata, 6, a Brownie from Wethersfield, liked his disappearing pencil trick anyway.

Her father, Sebastian, said he was eager for her to learn the value of conservation, a way of life in his parents' native Sicily.

"People never throw anything out," he said. "We're trying to instill the same beliefs in our daughter. There's always a place."

There's plenty of garbage on display at the Trash Museum. A free-standing, walk-through sculpture called the "Temple of Trash" bears a thick skin of colorful refuse that once was the stuff of somebody's life - a fuzzy red die, wood tennis rackets, Cheerios boxes and Butterfinger wrappers, a bottle of Newman's Own Venetian Spaghetti Sauce and a bottle of Frank Sinatra's Milanese Sugo di Tavola.

"We're big proponents of trash art," said Sotoria Montanari, the museum's education supervisor.

But the museum is less a forum for displaying artifacts than it is an elaborate learning laboratory where visitors, usually school children on field trips, can learn about the universe of trash and the ways people manage it - or should.

"The idea is if we teach the children, then they'll teach their families," Montanari said.

In an upstairs observatory with a view of the giant conveyor belt that sorts tons of glass, plastic, and metals from 70 Connecticut towns ("The Big Green Machine," as tour guide Kirsten Martin calls it), sisters Jiana and Janae Baker of Windsor stood beside a hefty bale of newspapers.

Jiana, 8, had been to the Trash Museum once before, but on Saturday she learned something she overlooked the last time: As packaged for resale, "A bale of newspapers weighs about 1,500 pounds," she said.

Downstairs, in a room where visitors add as they please to a sculpture of egg cartons, milk cartons, and toilet paper rolls (no glass here), the girls might have learned something else about paper consumption in America: Even in the electronic age, it's immense.

"Americans produce enough paper in 11 weeks to build a 6-foot-high wall to run from Hartford, CT to Disney World in Orlando, FL," declares the text beside the 6-foot mark of a wall-measure.

Other exhibits teach about composting (the recycling of leaves, food and other organic matter), landfills, and conservation through the use of durable materials. At a dinner table set for the Bear family - Mama, Papa, and Baby - children are asked to identify the place setting most likely to be reused. (The answer isn't Papa: He's using plastic utensils.)

The CRRA paired Saturday's special museum opening with a rare opportunity for adults: An invitation to drop off computers, televisions, cellphones, stereos, and other electronics, which the authority is not equipped to process. In all, about 350 visitors dropped off about 60,000 pounds of electronic equipment, CRRA project overseer Mike Faniel said, including an old-fashioned electric sewing machine in a hand-crafted cabinet.

"Before I could get my camera out, they threw it out," he said - that is, packed it off for recycling.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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