Library exhibit to honor Mercer Island’s legacy of environmentalism

  • Wednesday, October 25, 2017 11:08am
  • News

MIHS student Bill Hochberg, a member of the Committee to Save the Earth, accepts the 1976 Washington State Environmental Excellence Award from then Governor Dan Evans. Courtesy photo

Long before recycling was popular, Mercer Island High School students led the way in creating their own Recycling Center.

Their efforts will be recognized with an exhibit in the Mercer Island Library this week, according to a press release.

Sept. 15, 1975 — the opening day of the Mercer Island Recycling Center — was a giant step towards realizing the vision of a small group of MIHS students, members of the visionary Committee to Save the Earth.

During the next 34 years, until the Recycling Center closed on Feb. 28, 2010, materials recycled through this small building have kept millions of pounds of paper, plastic, and other reusable materials out of landfills and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars which was donated back to local schools and community groups, including a donation to the construction of adjacent Bicentennial Park.

Last month, a collection of materials pertaining to the work of the Committee to Save the Earth, including photographs, documents, notebooks, binders, certificates, brochures, drawings, letters, awards, medals, plans, meeting minutes, charts, newspaper articles, receipts, slides, a videotape (“Saving a Piece of the Earth”), and even a Committee to Save the Earth t-shirt and sweatshirt, plus the original 7-foot long “COMMITTEE TO SAVE THE EARTH Mercer Island School District Recycling Center” banner, were discovered in storage.

A small selection of these treasured items will be on display in the Mercer Island Library from Oct. 25 through Nov. 4.

Visitors to the exhibit will step back in time and learn how the MIHS students of the early 1970s envisioned reaching their goal of “Saving the earth,” their progress towards planning, funding and building the Recycling Center, and even how they inspired citizens to participate through planning and sponsoring such original, festive community activities as the “RECYCLING OLYMPICS.”

What this small, energetic, committed and determined group of Mercer Island High School students accomplished boggles the imagination even now, not only winning the coveted award for “Environmental Excellence” in 1976 from then Governor Dan Evans (the plaque will be on display), but also inspiring their community to take responsibility for recycling their trash and thus Saving the Earth.

The exhibit includes the three top-rated proposals for re-purposing the Recycling Center, as generated both by the Bainbridge Graduate Institute community survey (initiated in 2010 and concluded with a report to the City Council), and by the Community Forum “Renew, Reuse, Re-purpose” (held last month on Sept. 23).

Currently housing the only public restrooms easily accessible to the Town center, the Recycling Center also holds storage for the Thrift Shop, Summer Celebration, and the Farmers’ Market. Viewers of the display are invited to suggest their own ideas for repurposing the Recycling Center, and/or to indicate which of the purposes already identified they prefer.

The Recycling Center site is being considered for the planned Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA), though the city recently suggested that MICA look at alternate locations.

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