An outstanding group of students from across the country were the recipients of the 2009 President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA), a prestigious award presented to students showing innovative design and implementation of environmental projects since 1971.
Awarded last week by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, the 10 students and teams were recognized for their efforts in outstanding contributions to environmental protection through projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality and protect national waterways.
“The President’s Environmental Youth Award recognizes young people from across the United States who have stepped up to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the communities where we live,” said Jackson.
“Our winners represent the future of environmental innovation. We’re proud to recognize their incredible work, and thrilled to have their invaluable help in taking on the environmental challenges of today and tomorrow.”
These students developed projects that involved hundreds of community members, educators, students and policy makers in environmental science research, community recycling, energy conservation, sustainability and environmental education. A couple of our favorites include:
Project T.G.I.F.: Turn Grease Into Fuel
This group of Rhode Island (EPA Region 1) middle school students, members of the Westerly Innovations Network (Team WIN), decided to do their part in tackling global warming by creating a sustainable cooking oil to biodiesel project. The students presented their project to the local town council and convinced them to place grease collection receptacles at the town’s transfer station, allowing residents to drop off their waste cooking oil. The students also convinced 64 local restaurants to donate their waste cooking oil as well.
The students collaborated with a local company to collect the waste oil and transfer it to a biodiesel refinery where it was recycled into biofuel. Funds received from the recycling of the waste oil were used to purchase Bioheat, a biofuel donated to local charities. To date, the project has collected over 36,000 gallons of waste oil and produced 30,000 gallons of biofuel a year, eliminating 600,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions to the air. The students have donated 4,000 gallons of biofuel to local charities and helped 40 families with emergency heating assistance.
The Vision is Green
Sixteen-year-old student Sarah Jo Lambert from Lubbock, Texas (EPA Region 6) decided to fulfill her Girl Scout Gold Award requirements and help educate kids about green living. She decided to design and build a local environmental education center made entirely out of earth-friendly materials.
Sarah recruited help from students at Texas Tech University, structural engineers and others in the community to build the center using the Compressed Earth Block (CEB) method of construction. The impressive construction is being used as a model for sustainable building by the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) program at Texas Tech University and has been adopted by the university as their pilot program for an energy audit study. It is anticipated that 400 STEM students per year will visit and conduct research there.
The new environmental education center, called Lorax Lodge, has already hosted 1,300 visitors from 14 different states. Lambert developed a curriculum guide for the center as the second aspect of her project, as well as a nature trail complete with a map and curriculum guide.
No More Trash Talk: Let’s Clean Up Our Act
This group of junior high students from Homer, Alaska (EPA Region 10) learned their local landfill would be full by 2013 and decided to do something about it. They formed EcoLogical and worked with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and the Homer Middle School Site Council to reduce the weekly waste volume generated at Homer Middle School.
After 30 days, the four girls convinced their local waste management company to recycle tin cans and successfully proposed the elimination of expanded polystyrene trays at the school cafeteria. The school now utilizes reusable plastic trays and has set up a recycling area in the lunchroom. After just one week, the school reduced their landfill waste by 50 percent and increased their recycling from 36 pounds per week to 120 pounds per week.
The girls also organized a “Trash into Fashion” show attending by more than 120 recycling designers, models and audience members. Local artists designed dressed made of bread bags, newspapers, magazines, plastic sacks and juice pouches.