As a society, the United States of America is a lot of things. Large, diverse, and, unfortunately, quite wasteful with what is consumed and used every year.
According to archived data from the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generated 254 million tons of garbage in 2013. In contrast, Americans recycled only 87 million tons of this same refuse, leaving a 167 million ton efficiency gap in the nation.
Ian Schwanda is trying to change this.
Raised in the Northwoods and a former graduate of Lakeland Union High School, the 24-year-old freshman science teacher at LUHS recently took his students on an upcycling journey where they were challenged to take old junk and transform it into something new and useful for anyone.
Having grown up in northern Wisconsin before receiving his degree from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Schwanda spent a lot of time outside and engaged in the related activities which can be grouped within this sphere of life. As he tells it, being among the rivers and lakes of the area sparked a lifelong love of the sciences.
"Growing up here, I was often really curious about how things in nature worked," he said. "I'd get really excited about it and would talk about it extensively with others. I've always liked working with kids, so combined with this I knew what I wanted to do in life."
After receiving his degree in scientific education, Schwanda applied on a whim to a vacancy at LUHS and - due to what he feels is good luck - was hired at his former school. While back in the Northwoods, he has brought in ideas - like upcycling - from his university days to the student body.
Like many careers, those in teaching also swap ideas with each other.
"I can't take all the credit for (upcycling) at all," he said. "I originally got the idea from a teacher I did some of my student teaching for in La Crosse. She did a similar project and once I knew I was going to teach environmental science I knew I'd do the same."
And for the past few weeks, he has.
Students in Schwanda's class have made items ranging from stools welded out of scrap metal to a rainstick which utilizes PVC piping in its construction. Though some items have been small and others grand, Schwanda is proud of the work and its intensity.
"The level of detail which went into some of the items my students made is amazing," Schwanda said. "I wasn't sure what to expect for the first time, but I was blown away. They took the environmental concept of upcycling and really made it their own."
Evan J. Pretzer may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.