Small things add up during Earth Day celebration

Student leaders highlight health and the environment and send an anti-tobacco message.

Northwestern Middle School eighth grader Hannah Peterson paints the face of 4K student Natalie Dailey during an Earth Day event at the Superior-Douglas County Family YMCA on Friday, April 28.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

SUPERIOR — Students of all ages gathered at the Superior-Douglas County Family YMCA on Friday, April 28, to celebrate Earth Day.

The second annual event paired children in 4K at the YMCA and fifth graders from Lake Superior Elementary School with leaders from the Northwestern Middle School FACT group. The teen-led FACT movement began in 2001 to spread the truth about big tobacco.

“We are trying to make a difference,” said Isabella Scheil, an eighth grader at NMS.

The middle school students used artwork, gardening, face painting, informational handouts and a community clean-up to share the importance of staying healthy, avoiding tobacco and protecting the environment.

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Four-year-old kindergarten students sit on the floor with painted faces during an Earth Day celebration Friday, April 28, at the Superior-Douglas County Family YMCA.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Events were organized by a team from the Northwestern Wisconsin Lung Health Alliance, City of Superior Environmental Services Division, Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services and Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency.


“It’s been a really great, like, synergistic group to get together because we’re looking at human health and the health of the environment,” said Megan Hogfeldt, water resources specialist with the city.

The groups share a common thread: tobacco.

Hatching chicks have been the focus of attention in the school's kindergarten rooms.

“It’s kind of fascinating to see the kind of data we find. The most commonly found piece of litter are cigarette butts, worldwide, in cleanups,” Hogfeldt said. “So we’ll probably find a lot of those today, which is unfortunate.”

Each one that's picked up makes a positive impact on the environment.

Kindergarten student Alexis Madsen, 4, second from left, picks out a plant to put in the pot she decorated with help from Northwestern Middle School students, from left, Emily Mohr, Izzy Opsahl and Ava Arseneau.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

“These are tiny little things that can easily make their way into the storm drains and then Faxon Creek and then Lake Superior,” Hogfeldt said.

It’s important to pick up litter, whether around the house or around the neighborhood, she said: “Every little piece of litter counts.”

Wider message

The face painting and art projects were a hit. Three Northwestern Middle School FACT members — Scheil, Madi Mohr and Hannah Peterson — are reaching an even wider audience. They have served on the state FACT youth board since the fall.

“I wanted to be on the state board because I wanted to make an impact on my community,” Mohr said. “Doing it through the state increases opportunities and more activities that we can do to spread awareness.”


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In addition to hosting tobacco awareness activities at NMS and in the community, the three meet monthly with other board members from around the state.

“I think it’s really fun,” Peterson said. “I get to see other FACT members across Wisconsin and I like to meet with them and talk with them.”

The middle school students are passionate about their work. “We’re spreading awareness about tobacco and vaporizers and just putting a message out there to our peers that all this stuff isn’t good,” Mohr said.

Pilot program

Vape disposal kits were on display at the Earth Day celebration. Each of the plastic buckets, marked with a hazardous waste label, contained sealable plastic bags and rubber gloves. The pilot kits will be placed at Superior High School, Northwestern Middle School and with the Douglas County Health Department.

A bucket for storing vaping devices until they can be disposed of property sits on a table at the Superior-Douglas County Family YMCA. Lithium-ion batteries and any vape cartridges containing nicotine liquid are considered hazardous waste. A pilot program launched by the Northwest Wisconsin Lung Health Alliance will distribute buckets to Superior High School, Northwestern Middle School and the Douglas County Health Department.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Disposing of a used or spent rechargeable vaping device is not as easy as throwing it in the trash. Both the batteries and any cartridges with nicotine liquid in them are considered hazardous material, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

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“We know that sometimes school districts are collecting these bigger devices,” said Charmaine Swan with the Northwest Wisconsin Lung Health Alliance.

The kits, funded through the state tobacco prevention control program, give schools a way to safely dispose of them.

Children in the 4K program color on an Earth Day banner with supervision from Northwestern Middle School eighth grader Elijah Koreplin, seated back-left, and YMCA staff.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram

Currently, disposable vaping devices can be thrown in the trash.


“Unfortunately, the way these items are manufactured considers the ease of access and use rather than environmental and health impacts. So sort of like the industry is making it harder to do right by the environment and dispose of these properly as they should be,” Swan said.

Households with used or spent vaping devices can bring used vaping devices or components, including those with batteries, to household hazardous waste facilities or Cleansweep collection events.

A Cleansweep event will take place from 2-6 p.m. June 21 at the Solon Springs garbage and recycling center, 11523 Business 53. There is a fee for some items, including bulbs and batteries. Visit for more information and schedules.

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Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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