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‘Eco Chase Challenge’ seeks to further conservation and sustainability

The Alachua County Office of Waste Alternatives is inviting residents to participate in a two-month environmental scavenger hunt that began Feb. 22 and will conclude on April 22, which is Earth Day.

“Eco Chase Challenge – The Race Against Waste” will welcome up to 50 teams, with up to five members each, to complete missions that facilitate waste reduction and conservation in Alachua County.

Alanna Carinio, the public education program coordinator at the Alachua County Solid Waste & Resource Recovery Administration, has been instrumental in putting the challenge together.

“You want to be part of the change,” Carinio said. “This job and this role allows us to make a direct impact in our community.”

The entirety of the challenge is organized remotely through ‘Goosechase,’ a mobile app inspired by scavenger hunts. Each team will be able to earn points by completing different environmental missions, and points can be parlayed into prizes provided by sponsors, Carinio said.

Led by two women working at Santa Fe College’s Veterans and Military Success Services Office, ‘Team Green Rats’ have already begun completing missions.

“We had to go to the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo and make animal sounds, like an impression,” said Emily Launiere, one of the team’s members. “We had to post a video of ourselves with the gibbons making the sounds that they were making."

This was a part of the ‘Party Animals’ mission, which encourages participants to visit the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo. For every admission, the zoo donates 25 cents to wildlife conservation, according to a mission release form provided by Carinio.

“There's one that I'm, like, super excited for,” said Tatum Turner, another Team Green Rats member. “We're doing the Great Invader.”

On Feb. 25, the Great Invader Raider Rally will be hosted by the City of Gainesville, Carinio said. Volunteers at the event will be assigned to remove invasive plant species at certain parks and locations in Alachua. To earn points toward the challenge, teams must upload a photo of their team at the event, according to the release form.

“We're in first place, and we're so determined to stay there. We like to check it every day, all day,” Turner said.

Additionally, some missions in the challenge focus on bringing awareness to environmental resources available to Alachua residents.

“Is Your Water Running?” is a mission designed to make participants watch a short video about the Community Weatherization Coalition, which provides cost-free home audits about water and electric costs, Carinio said.

“You may just think that well, my water bill is really high, and that just must be high rates or something,” Carinio said. “But you know, little do you know that you actually have a leak.”

Through the video provided by the coalition, participants can learn where their water meter is located, how to read it and how to tell if it's running, Carinio said.

“If you've turned off everything in your house that could be running water, and then this thing is spinning, that means there's water coming through this meter,” Carinio said. “So, you must have a leak somewhere.”

According to a May 2022 report from the Environmental Protection Agency, household leaks can waste nearly 900 billion gallons of water annually nationwide.

Prior to this year’s Eco Chase Challenge, an event called Trashformations was hosted by the Alachua County Solid Waste & Resource Recovery Administration at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The venue was a recycled art competition where contestants had to create art out of items that would otherwise be discarded, Carinio said.

It was only open to middle school, high school and college students, as well as their families. However, the event is no longer running.

“During COVID, the museum actually decided that they were no longer going to host these outside events, and so we lost our venue,” Carinio said. “And we were like, ‘we really want to do a big program that engages with the community.’”

After the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County created a scavenger hunt game using Goosechase, Carinio drew from these ideas in creating the Eco Chase Challenge for Alachua.

“It seemed like the perfect marriage, you know, to do a county event, but then also promote all these other resources and organizations in that event, and then gamify it,” Carinio said.

Robert is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.