International Students Learn from Tailgating Trash

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

International students on the URI recycling team improve their English and learn about sustainability by cleaning up at URI football games. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

International students on the URI recycling team improve their English and learn about sustainability by cleaning up at URI football games. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

KINGSTON, R.I. — English isn’t the first language for this college recycling team. Its members speak Arabic, Turkish and Portuguese, and they use green projects to help with their English and learn about environmental issues in the United States.

“Nowadays, the planet is in big trouble,” Lais Duarte, 21, of Brazil said during a cleanup before the Nov. 22 University of Rhode Island football game against Towson University. “This is important. If other people see us (recycling) the next time they will remember to do it too.”

Duarte was one of a dozen students who picked up trash and recyclables this fall at URI home football games. All are enrolled in the school’s Associates in Cultural Exchange Language Institute (A.C.E.), which helps international students improve their English through intensive language studies and intercultural training.

This fall, the class studied sustainability and environmental issues at URI. The students put their learning into action by forming a recycling team and entering the GameDay Recycling Challenge. In the challenge, schools compete based on the amount of recycling collected during home football games, most of it collected while patrolling the pre-game tailgate.

National powerhouse football programs compete, as well as area schools such as Boston College, Brown University, Bryant University and Harvard University. Students collect beverage containers, paper, cardboard and trash, and even food that can be donated or composted.

Vanessa Garcia Polanco, an environmental and natural resources economics major at URI and president of Student Action for Sustainability, suggested the recycling challenge to the A.C.E. students. She had noticed that international students tend to appreciate environmental projects and services more than U.S. students, who often take green practices like recycling for granted.

“When you come from another country, you see the difference you can make,” she said.

The A.C.E. green team collected more than 250 pounds of recyclables at home games this fall. It’s a modest sum compared to schools with much larger football crowds and many more acres of parking lots.

The competition is not about who collects the most, said Angela Potts, an A.C.E. instructor who joined the parking-lot collection during the last game of the URI football season. “We’ve been writing about it and reading about it and now we are getting into it.”

After all, she said, “this is their community.”