Trash Treasures

Creating an Eco Challenge

Dan Nasitka, Manager of Public and Community Relations for Discovery Science Center in Orange County, CA, discusses the newest exhibit designed to educate visitors about recycling and making eco-friendly decisions.

What is the Discovery Science Center and what does it offer visitors? The Discovery Science Center (DSC), a 59,000-sqaure-foot learning facility designed to spark children’s natural curiosity, is Orange County, CA’s largest nonprofit educational resource. Since opening in December 1998, it has been dedicated to educating young minds, assisting teachers and increasing public understanding and appreciation of science, math and technology through interactive exhibits and programs. DSC has approximately 120 interactive exhibits that encourage visitors to search for answers, think and explore.

The center is divided into several themed areas where guests will explore Science of Hockey, Dino Quest, Boeing Rocket Lab, Planetary Research Station, Eco Challenge and other hands-on exhibits throughout the center. It is a community-wide resource where families come together to learn and have fun. The County’s residents and school districts are served by this educational resource. Discovery Science Center, which welcomed its one-millionth visitor in 2003, now receives more than 400,000 visitors each year.

What is involved in DSC’s newest exhibit, the Eco Challenge? Eco Challenge is a brand new, state-of-the-art, environmentally themed exhibit that combines elements of Orange County’s mission to protect the environment and extend the life of our landfills with the DSC’s ability to merge learning with fun. It features three hands-on areas. First, visitors will master the skills of a green superhero in the Discovery Market by learning to become an eco-friendly shopper. Then, interactive activities inside the Eco Garage reveal the importance of identifying and properly disposing of household hazardous waste. Finally, visitors get the dirt on trash in the Race to Recycle activity and learn how to be wise about sorting their trash to maximize resources and minimize the amount of recyclable materials going to the landfill.

The goal of the Eco Challenge exhibit is to stimulate behavioral change in the local community on a long-term basis. The hope is that guests of all ages will make eco-friendly decisions in their daily lives and ultimately form habits that will have a positive impact on the environment in Orange County. Eco Challenge is a permanent installation and will have a lifespan at the Science Center for at least 10 years.

Why did the DSC feel there was a need to create this exhibit? Orange County’s Waste and Recycling Division approached the DSC about creating a partnership with a fresh way to educate the 3 “Rs” (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) in order to make a translational social behavior change in the community. They were tired of using the same billboard ads, commercials and posters to get their message out, because it just was not working. A bold decision was made to create an interactive, state-of-the-art exhibit that would help influence the choices people made in regards to their shopping habits, trash diversion and household hazardous waste. Orange County and the DSC have paved the way for a new breed of science center exhibits.

Who were the key people in making the decision to create the exhibit? Joe Adams, President and CEO of the Discovery Science Center, was approached by Michael Giancola, Director of Orange County Waste and Recycling (OCWR), to create an innovative, educational exhibit about the importance of recycling and extending the life of the local landfills. With the support and approval of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, DSC and OCWR were set to create Eco Challenge.

What kind of response have you received from the community? The community response has been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. Adults and children alike are energetically engaging in the three exhibits and understanding the concepts behind each activity. There’s something to be said about seeing a child’s face light up with the comprehension of each activity’s ultimate purpose. From pushing an Eco Challenge shopping cart in the Discovery Market and scanning the correct item to sorting the correct recyclables in the Race to Recycle, there is a tangible difference in each guest afterward. The potential for learning does not stop at the DSC. We want to carry the message into the homes and schools by having the children who visit teach their parents and peers about the importance of eco-friendly shopping and hazardous waste recycling.

For more information, contactDan Nasitka, Manager of Public and Community Relations, at (714) 913-5018 or via e-mail at [email protected].