Columbus, OH

University District “Can Fairy” project encourages students to keep community clean

The Lantern
Can Fairy is free to use for all students living in between Chittenden and 16th Avenues who have an easily accessible covered porch. Credit: Reilly Ackermann | Lantern Reporter

It isn’t magic that there are fewer beer cans to trip over each game day.

It might be fairies, though.

The University District Organization expanded its “Can Fairy” curbside recycling program this semester, aiming to provide students living off campus with an easy way to take care of their homes and the community. Nora Gerber, the executive director of the organization, said she created the program last year with Keep Columbus Beautiful after seeing and hearing about the copious amounts of litter after college game days, and she has already seen a notable decrease in litter.

“At the very end of the proof of concept last year, last November, we got our numbers back and we diverted just over one ton or 2,000 pounds of [recyclable] material and we saw a reduction of litter on lawns,” Gerber said.

The program — named as a reclamation of the term used for people who pick up cans and other trash, Gerber said — gives students living between 16th and Chittenden avenues free recycling boxes. The “can fairies,” a team of the organization’s employees, then empty the boxes for the students every Monday during the academic year.

Keeley Patton, a third-year in speech and hearing science, said before using Can Fairy, she didn’t have access to recycling at her home.

“I’m used to just throwing cardboard and cans or whatever in the recycling, so being here without one was weird,” Patton said. “But then we signed up for it, and it showed up and it was like magic.”

Patton said the program helped her household decrease their trash.

“We had a 21st birthday party a couple weekends ago with a bunch of people here, and we destroyed the box, like it was just totally full of all the cans and everything that otherwise would have gone in the trash,” Patton said.

Gerber said it’s important for students to participate in the project because it helps break the habit of leaving excessive litter on lawns.

“I think that it leads people to feel like we don’t care about our neighborhood,” Gerber said. “And so by having a way to really easily recycle and keep our lawns clean, I think it’ll show that we have a lot more pride in our University District.”

Gerber said she hopes this project will help students change their mindsets about litter in their communities.

“It’s kind of rude [to leave cans in the yard], and I think that this project is trying to reframe it, change the litter habit, change the mindset of why you do that, and so that’s why we asked to fill the box, not the lawn,” Gerber said.

Students can see if their houses are eligible by visiting the Can Fairy website . Students who sign up will also be entered to win gift cards from university-area establishments. In the meantime, Gerber said they would love to expand to the surrounding areas next year if the project is successful.

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