TRUE TALE: How a 13-year-old uses recycling to improve his community.

can of coke on sidewalk

Tayler McGillis, Toluca, IL


While his peers watch TV, play video games, and spend hours in front of their computers, 13-year-old Tayler McGillis picks up aluminum cans.

And he’s picked up over 20,000 pounds of aluminum so far.

At eleven years old, Tayler set out to earn the William T. Hornaday national conservation award from the Boy Scouts of America.

Tayler’s family lives on four and a half acres of land in Toluca, a small town in Illinois of about 1300 people. The McGillis children have grown up learning good stewardship of the land, said Denise McGillis, Tayler’s mother.

“We’ve always recycled in the house,” she said. “He’s grown up knowing it’s something you have to do.”

By living on a well, and giving their farm animals water first, Tayler has learned to conserve resources from a young age. His family also composts and carpools.

“It’s a whole learning process. We put on a sweater, turn off the lights,” Denise said.

Thus it was natural that Tayler, who is a Boy Scout, picked recycling as the subject of his Hornaday project. The William T. Hornaday award is a prestigious conservation award that challenges Boy Scouts to work for wildlife conservation and habitat protection.

“It’s a rare award, and I had been recycling basically my whole life,” Tayler said.

Tayler’s family used to drive to a neighboring town in order to recycle.

His initial goal was to collect 500 pounds of aluminum over the summer of 2005 from local businesses and restaurants. He set up nearly 20 recycling boxes in his small town in Toluca, Ill. and in surrounding counties.

While the bins quickly filled up, Tayler saw an opportunity on the polluted roads and highways in his area. He began walking the highways, picking up trash. The aluminum he finds goes towards his Hornaday award, but everything else is also collected and recycled, if it can be.

“We tie the bags around our waists, one for trash, one for paper and plastic, and one for aluminum,” Tayler said.

Ona typical day of trash collecting, Tayler wakes up at 8:30 and is out on the roads until about 4:30 with his mom and sisters.

“I have walked over 150 miles picking up trash,” Tayler said.

Once he collects the aluminum, it goes into what his family has dubbed, The Pile—a huge pile of recyclables that literally reaches above their garage.

“It’s a hoot, it’s literally a tourist attraction,” said Denise.

Two or three times a year, Tayler and his Dad drive a semi-truck 45 minutes to Ottawa, Ill., where there is a huge refinery recycling plant. There, Tayler gets the best money for his recycling—money which goes back into his community.

Tayler’s efforts have also pushed Toluca to establish a small recycling system in town through a large dumpster, but this money doesn’t go back to the community.

He surpassed his goal of 500 pounds quickly, and was awarded the badge for the Hornaday Award. He has donated $10,500 to the Marshall County, Ill. Habitat for Humanity. The organization builds homes for underprivileged families, and Tayler even helped build two homes

“It’s actually really nice to see people go into homes I’ve helped build for them,” he said.

Tayler has also donated $1,000 to The Ark, a no-kill animal shelter, where he volunteers once a week. He often brings home wounded animals to care for, and he wants to be a veterinarian.

Tayler has now collected more than 20,577 pounds of aluminum. He was awarded the prestigious President’s Environmental Youth Award in 2007 in Washington, D.C.

“Most kids don’t have long term projects, it’s like a sport, its seasonal, this is year-round, every week, it’s like a job,” Denise said.

He was offered the bronze award for the Hornaday, but declined it in order to pursue the silver award. The silver is the highest conservation award any Boy Scout can earn, and requires a number of time-intensive Eagle Scout projects beyond the aluminum-collecting.

Besides the usual cans, he has taken apart a 36-foot mobile home, a pool, garage doors, street lamps and numerous satellite dishes. People in the community know Tayler now, and call him whenever they have recyclables.

“People used to give him queer looks,” Denise said. “Now they slow down. People drop off newspapers because they know we are going to recycle.”

Tayler says people can make a difference if they get away from distractions like TV and videogames.

“Without recycling, animals and resources are hurt,” he said. Tayler said the best way to start making a difference is by sending out flyers to local people in your community, talking to your mayor, and set up recycling bins.

While it’s rare to see such ambition in a 13-year-old, Tayler’s Mom said he doesn’t feel like he is doing anything special.

“This is his duty and everyone’s duty,” Denise said. “If parents would just start when they’re little, they can do a lot.”

The entire project has been a huge community effort, said Denise.

“The community has really supported him,” she said. “Our roads are really clean now, this town has really rallied behind him.”