Blue and Gold Make Green: A High School Recycling Success Story

By Tess Clinkingbeard

I was always interested in the environment, but I never imagined that this curiosity would result in my being a student intern at the EPA!

It all started when my high school’s Green Team won the President’s Environmental Youth Award and two representatives, from the EPA office in Seattle, came to our school to present our award.

Out of all the PEYA contestants last year in Region 10, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, Tahoma’s Green Team was selected to have done the best job of improving our community’s environment.

From September 2009 to December 2010, Tahoma High School began five specialized recycling programs, for everything from Styrofoam to batteries—but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Led by Green Team President, Cort Hammond, Tahoma’s Green Team was able to do two adopt-a-road events, initiate food waste recycling at our school and become a Level One Green School. We were able to save the school district $24,000 through lunchroom recycling.

Tahoma’s Green Team Motto, “Blue and Gold Make Green!” after the school’s colors, is a perfect summation of the transformation that has occurred. As you approach the school, there are five solar panels on the front, which generate some of the energy we use every day. There are recycling bins in every classroom, posters about how to sort waste in the lunchroom and every light switch has a reminder sticker about turning off the lights when leaving the room. The student store and coffee stand have compostable cups. Green Team is working on extending that to utensils and reusable dishes.

All of our hard work paid off in the form of a National PEYA Award. When we received our award, we were also notified about summer internships, and, after an interview and a lot of paperwork, I was working at the EPA! I am so lucky to have the opportunity to work so closely with those on the frontlines of the battle for environmental justice. The EPA’s summer internship program is an amazing opportunity to gain real life experience.

About the author: Tess Clinkingbeard is a Senior at Tahoma High School, and is now a Co-President, along with Cassandra Houghton, of the Green Team. She is currently interning at the EPA’s office in Seattle and aspires to go into environmental studies and Spanish.