Coleman Fellows

 Rain Barrell

Report from Dr. Terry Wilson---WKU

At Western Kentucky University, in the fall semester of 2010, Dr. Terry Wilson offered the graduate course ENVE 560- Investigating and Evaluating Environmental Issues.  This particular course is based on a six-step environmental service learning program known as Earth Force.  Dr. Wilson facilitated the process, but the students ultimately decided which service learning project they wanted to complete as a class.     The graduate students inventoried issues on campus and, after examining the resources available and the areas with the most need, they decided that water management is a major issue that needs attention.  This came after their research revealed that huge amounts of energy are used every day to clean our water to drinking water standards, even though much of that water is used to flush toilets, wash cars and irrigate gardens.           


Christian Ryan-Downing, Sustainability Coordinator for Western Kentucky University, visited one of the class meetings to share her expertise on the subject.  She mentioned the fact that the Pepsi Company offered to supply large barrels used for transporting the syrups they use to make their soft drinks.  Pepsi uses these 55 gallon plastic barrels once and then they are shredded.  She suggested that these barrels could easily be reused as rain barrels for buildings on campus as well in residential buildings.  After hearing this information, the graduate students decided to tackle this project.  They decided to design and construct two rain barrels for their project: one to deliver to WKU President Gary Ransdell’s home, and one to keep as a demonstration barrel for workshops in the future.  At the next class meeting, the students showed up in their old clothes and got to work drilling holes for the water spigots, cutting mesh for the openings they created at the top of the barrels, and painting the actual barrels. 

After the barrels dried, they set up a meeting with Dr. Ransdell one evening to present him with his new rain barrel.  The university gardener, Josh Twardowski, accompanied the students to inform Dr. Ransdell of his proposal to use the rain barrel to water various plants outside the Ransdells’ home.  President Ransdell was excited and told the students he would be sharing information about his rain barrel with future guests at his home.  The house is provided to his family by the university and is used for many, many functions, including warm weather outdoor receptions.

One of the big outcomes of this project was the realization that by recycling and reusing materials like the barrels from Pepsi, as well as some other of the other materials used in the construction; the cost of producing each rain barrel was less than $5!  The students had done searches on the Internet and found that commercial vendors of rain barrels charge a minimum of $100 for a single barrel and the prices go up from there to $400 to $500 each.  Obviously, this provided for a business opportunity.  In this class, students learned the principles of entrepreneurship as well as the construction, marketing and pricing a product.  Dr. Wilson reported on his class in  the Webex WKU meeting a few weeks ago. His graduate students are for the most part teachers and can teach these concepts in sustainability and entrepreneurship to many other students in the public Schools.