President’s Environmental Youth Award

Food Waste Diversion is Key to a Sustainable Community

By Lillianne Brown

Editor’s note: We’re happy to have this blog post from one of this year’s President’s Environmental Youth Award winners.

Over 20% of our country’s landfills consist of food we throw away.

When this organic waste breaks down in the landfill with other types of waste, it produces methane gas. When organic waste breaks down separate from the other waste in your composting bin, it creates carbon dioxide. Both methane and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases, but methane is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Plus, the compost created from the diverted organic waste is a nutrient rich soil that can be used to garden. Diverting food waste is important because it turns something usually considered waste into a resource, which also decreases the amount of emissions from landfills.

Our project, Zero Waste Composting, has worked with area businesses, restaurants and schools to help divert food waste from landfills. Reducing organic waste has had a significant impact here in Iowa City. Our landfill is able to now produce more compost for the community to use. More people are educated on why composting is important and how they can take part in reducing organic waste in landfills. And, it saves space in the landfills, is economically viable because it generates money for the landfill, and produces less harmful greenhouse gases.

Students diverting food waste instead of throwing it away.

Students diverting food waste instead of throwing it away.

The diversion process and its benefits shouldn’t only be limited to our community. Many communities can get involved and help decrease the amount of food waste being sent to their landfills. Diversion can take place in homes, schools, restaurants and businesses.

At home, families can create a backyard compost pile that can benefit their garden. Food scraps, like coffee filters, egg shells and vegetable and fruit scraps can all be composted in a home composting area. Schools, restaurants and businesses can also start diverting their food waste. It’s an easy transition, with many third-party businesses willing to help. Most food waste, including meat and dairy, can be diverted when being sent to a commercial composting facility. The food waste is then hauled away to a composting facility.

Other cities and towns can learn from our successes and divert food waste from their landfills as well. Communities should start by contacting their local landfill to see what options are available for organic waste diversion in their region. Schools, restaurants and businesses should then educate students, employees and consumers about the benefits of composting before implementing a diversion program. If a compost facility is unavailable in a region, communities can still divert organic waste by showing families how to create backyard compost piles and compost their home food and yard scraps. The model we used is simple, and many communities can implement it.

About the author: Lillianne Brown is a senior at Iowa City High School in Iowa City. She is a member of the Zero Waste Composting team and won the President’s Environmental Youth Award in 2014.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Helping the Hungry and the Environment this Holiday Season

By Gabrielle Posard

Editor’s note: We’re happy to have this blog post from one of this year’s President’s Environmental Youth Award winners.

Five years ago, I was inspired to create a non-profit after learning a shocking statistic: one in five people in our country struggle to feed their families, while billions of pounds of good food are dumped into landfills.

This rotting food is a major source of methane gas, which speeds up climate change. It also wastes precious resources like water and is one of the largest sources of solid waste by weight.

Sadly, a third of the food that’s grown and bought in the U.S. gets wasted and thrown away. Millions of tons of fruit and vegetables rot in fields because they are misshapen or discolored. Major retail grocery chains are more likely to throw away fruits, vegetables, dairy and meats than to donate them to food banks. Although the federal “Good Samaritan Food Donation Act” protects grocers, growers, and food companies from liability, many are unaware of the legislation.

Most food reaching its “best before date” or “freshest by date” remains edible for up to one week if refrigerated properly. Foods with short shelf lives are most often tossed in grocery store dumpsters, but that food is often the healthiest. Diverting that good food to food banks instead of dumping it lowers the company’s dumpster fees, has potential tax benefits and reduces landfill waste.

The non-profit I founded addresses critical environmental concerns created by commercial food waste; millions of pounds of healthy short shelf life foods can feed hungry children instead of clogging landfills. We’ve also provided volunteer opportunities to thousands of teens across multiple states. Most of these teens were previously unaware of the environmental issues food waste creates and had never volunteered before to help the environment.

The holidays are a time many Americans give thanks for what they have, and want to help those who are struggling. We invite you to get involved this holiday season to decrease food waste, help alleviate hunger, and raise awareness about commercial food waste.

Gabrielle at the food distribution her non-profit, Donate Don’t Dump, runs where over 4,000 pounds of rescued food go to hundreds of people twice a month. This year, they were credited with an increase of over 1,000,000 total pounds in rescued food donations for one food bank alone, which went to feed families, not landfills.

Gabrielle at the food distribution her non-profit, Donate Don’t Dump, runs where over 4,000 pounds of rescued food go to hundreds of people twice a month. This year, they were credited with an increase of over 1,000,000 total pounds in rescued food donations for one food bank alone, which went to feed families, not landfills.

About the author: Gabrielle created Donate Don’t Dump as a way to get surplus and short-dated food from grocers, growers and food companies donated to the hungry instead of dumped into landfills. Her non-profit is 100% volunteer and teen-run with over 4,000 participants.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Well Done, Boston Latin School Youth Can!

By Quynh-Nhu Le

For about the past five years, Boston Latin School Youth CAN has engaged students both in school and in the community in environmental stewardship projects.

Five years! That’s a long time to have been doing this. I joined BLS Youth CAN about three years ago. I have seen it grow tremendously over that time. Our Education for Sustainability campaign, which aims to get sustainability integrated into BLS’s curriculum, has taken off. We just held our second Summer Institute for teachers interested in developing curriculum for the campaign.

We’ve also worked to improve the school facilities, started a school garden and introduced Zero-Sort Recycling to the school. Honestly, Youth CAN has worked so hard these past years in order to improve youth awareness and school facilities that sometimes it’s very tiring, especially when you hit roadblocks on your project. Of course, the project itself is fun and rewarding. BUT, there are times when you really wonder how much what you’re doing really impacts others.

That’s where the PEYA award came in. I think my group collectively screamed when we found out we had won the PEYA Region 1 Award. The EPA is, of course, known for its mission to protect human health and the environment (since of course the two are inextricably tied together). It awards the President’s Environmental Youth Award to regional youths for outstanding environmental projects. This year, one of the ten awards was given to BLS Youth CAN.

We got to go to the award ceremony at Faneuil Hall in Boston, and even did a short skit about the importance of recycling that we developed when rolling out our Zero-Sort Recycling program at BLS.

The fact that the hard work we had done was recognized is immensely satisfying. I mean, some of our student leaders spend nearly every afternoon planning the next steps BLS Youth CAN will take. The PEYA award makes us feel all the work is worth it, because it is impacting places beyond the boundaries of our school.

I hope other youth groups and individuals out there are inspired to pursue their own projects by the work we have done, by the importance the EPA has placed on recognizing youth engagement in environmental stewardship, and by the dedication of all the PEYA winners.

Trust me. The personal satisfaction at making a positive impact on the community is worth it.

About the author: Quynh-Nhu Le is a Boston Latin School student & member of BLS Youth Can.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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EcoLogical

region10_09When we started our project in a small town called Homer, Alaska, we had no possible notion of what we were actually getting ourselves into. We were simply four young teenage girls truly wanting to alter the way our town was living. We wanted to see change, both in family homes and the general public.

We got our local middle school lunchroom to switch from using polystyrene trays to reusable plastic trays. We also introduced a “Tin Bin” to our local landfill and we held a community-wide “Trash into Fashion” show.

Then we won the President’s Environmental Youth Award and suddenly we were going to Washington, DC, to accept our award. When we flew over Washington, DC, we all looked at each other and grinned. Even after the plane touched the ground we kept asking each other if this was really happening.

Soon enough it was the Awards Ceremony. As we walked through the Willard Hotel, I remember thinking I had never seen such a beautiful place. It was like a palace. Everything was gold. Before the awards ceremony, we got to talk with Lisa Jackson, the Administrator of EPA. She was authentically interested in what we did, and what we had to say.

The award ceremony itself blew my mind. We, as region 10, were the last to go up on stage. We were handed the largest plaque I’ve ever seen. Finally, it seemed to hit me that this was real. After that, there was a luncheon at which Mr. Philippe Cousteau talked about his work and of how he was trying his best to stop the oil spill in his own way. He was inspiring, completely and totally inspiring.

Finally, it was the day that we went to the White House to meet President Obama. All of the winners stood in front of the White House on risers (note: do not wear a black dress on a hot day if you are going to meet the president). He simply walked around the corner. He was sincere, talking to us as one completely normal person might talk to another, as if he had forgotten that he was the president, and was simply a friend. He talked of how great our accomplishments were, and also of how important it was that we didn’t stop here, that we kept going, because “we are the future”. Each and every winner shook his hand, and got to look him in the eye. I wanted to talk, to thank him for his hard work, to chat about the world, and to ask what being the president of the United States is like, but even if I had the chance, I don’t know if I would have been able to get the words out. I was in awe.

This has been something we, the members of EcoLogical, will remember for the rest of our lives. And as President Obama said, it doesn’t stop here. Thank you, everyone who has helped make this happen. It was a life-changing experience.

About the author: Hannah Baird is a middle school student from Homer, Alaska. Hannah, along with one high school student and two other middle school students, recently received recognition for their environmental EcoLogical project.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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