The world has changed since the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County was formed nearly 50 years ago. But as the group — not to mention the worldwide environmental movement — has grown in both influence and numbers, local Defenders are keeping active in promoting their cause of protecting the environment.

Founded in 1970, when environmentalism still was far from the mainstream and even recycling was uncommon, the members of the Defenders have been doing hands-on and legislative work to promote the protection of the environment in McHenry County. 

Their early efforts included a recycling center that was so successful it led to Woodstock being the very first city in the state to offer curbside recycling. After that, the recycling center was no longer needed, but the organization began to hold monthly recycling drives throughout the county to pick up items such as Styrofoam, batteries, electronics, and fluorescent bulbs, which are not included in the curbside recycling program.

Today, households and businesses “see the importance of creating a healthy environment,” said Nancy Schietzelt, Defenders board president. The Defenders’ several committees, which are open to all members, provide many opportunities to support the cause. 

The water and natural resources protection committee works to protect the nine watersheds in the county with Illinois EPA-approved watersheds. The waste reduction committee focuses on recycling and promoting alternatives to wasteful lifestyle habits. Members are involved in the BOYBag campaign, which encourages shoppers to bring reusable bags to the store rather than using disposable plastic bags.  

The education committee conducts workshops, sponsors an annual scholarship and hosts documentary film nights in conjunction with MCC’s sustainability center. The fundraising committee raises funds through memberships, donations, garage sales, used-book sales and Pioneer Tree Farm Christmas tree sales and runs The Green Spot used bookstore on the Woodstock Square. The group’s newest committee, transportation, promotes alternatives to vehicle travel and advocates for “complete streets,” which consider all forms of travel when making road repairs and initiatives such as replanting trees that are uprooted when roadways are widened. 

The Defenders have a goal to reach 500 members by their 50th anniversary in 2020. Membership is available at various levels, including some lower-priced memberships to encourage involvement of students and young professionals. As Schietzelt points out, the original founders, who were in their 20s and 30s when the organization began, are growing older.

“It’s important as that founding generation starts to age that young people take over,” Schietzelt said.

Members benefit from joining the organization, but there are farther-reaching benefits, according to Cynthia Kanner, outreach coordinator for the Defenders. 

“It sounds clichéd, but everybody needs to care because it’s everybody’s future,” Kanner said.

Members of the community who want to learn more can attend community events, such as the monthly Green Drinks gathering at Duke’s Alehouse, 110 N. Main St., Crystal Lake. 

Recycling drives are held every month at different locations throughout the county. For more information, visit www.mcdef.org.

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