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News Releases from Region 10

EPA honors students in Washington and Alaska for outstanding leadership and environmental achievements

Students in Okanogan, Everett, Sammamish, Kenai are improving air quality and ocean health, teaching sustainability, and creating rural recycling programs

Contact Information: 
Suzanne Skadowski (

Seattle – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is honoring students and teachers in Everett, Okanogan and Sammamish, Washington and in Kenai, Alaska for their work to protect the environment and promote sustainability in their communities. The students are among youth across the U.S. recognized in this year’s President’s Environmental Youth Awards. 

“We’re proud to honor these inspiring young leaders who are engaging their communities to help solve environmental challenges and create a more sustainable future,” said EPA Regional Administrator Chris Hladick. “These students are making a real difference with far-reaching impacts through reducing and recycling waste, improving local air quality, protecting our oceans, and teaching younger students the importance of environmental stewardship.”

Award winners and honorable mentions in Alaska and Washington:

Make Soil Not Smoke - Virginia Grainger Elementary School, Okanogan, Washington

Mr. Anderson’s first grade class created a school garden and soon discovered that they could help their community transform leaf burning piles into useful garden compost. The students learned that by composting leaf piles rather than burning them, the community could avoid unnecessary waste and harmful smoke pollution in their air each fall.  Their “Make Soil Not Smoke” project quickly expanded into the community as the students shared the benefits of composting, not burning, leaves. They also received donations of horse manure, straw, hay and apple cores from local ranchers, a grant to buy worms for vermicomposting, and kid-sized garden tools donated by the Colville Indian Tribe. In just one year, they created over 200 cubic yards of garden compost. Now in 3rd grade, they are increasing “Make Soil Not Smoke” awareness with demonstrations, a parade float, and booths at street fairs and farmers markets.  

Save Our Ocean from Plastic - St. Mary Magdalen School, Everett, Washington

Mrs. Tyndall’s after-school environmental science class launched the “Save Our Ocean from Plastic” project to reduce plastic ocean pollution impacts to marine animals. They researched and spoke with scientists to learn about the marine health effects of plastic pollution and potential solutions. To encourage people to reduce single use plastics, they created fliers, kid’s coloring pages, large canvas paintings to use in community spaces, and visited local shops to make sure they had recycling bins for plastics.  They made presentations to the Mayor’s office, City Council, and other groups to promote reducing single use plastics through a new reusable bag ordinance. The students are creating a cloth snack bag to encourage students to reduce plastics use, carry reusable water bottles, and pick up discarded plastics and other trash. They are working to launch a school ecology club to continue the “Save Our Ocean from Plastic” project.

Operation Sustain - Sammamish, Washington

Six high school students launched Operation Sustain to help inspire environmental stewardship in younger students.  Through an idea sparked by their environmental science classes at their STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) high school, they created a video game to help educate elementary students about environmental issues and promote STEM education.  Operation Sustain is a video game for 3rd to 5th grade students that challenges them to build a sustainable city and learn the impacts of making decisions on everything from household water and energy use to transportation and farming. Through trial and error, students learn to think about large-scale solutions for sustainable development and how the choices they make can positively impact their community. The team developed teacher handbooks and class curriculum and are working with the state superintendent to expand the program for all 5th graders.

The More You Care, The More You Recycle - Robert McGinnis, Kenai, Alaska

Student Robert McGinnis formed a nonprofit organization and recycling business “The More You Care, The More You Recycle” to boost recycling at events on the Kenai Peninsula.  Inspired by his volunteer work at the Kenai Fair and other public events, he discovered how difficult and expensive it can be for event organizers to collect and deliver recyclable items to the transfer station. To solve this problem, he created a mobile recycling system to collect and transport recyclables to the transfer station, at low or no cost to event organizers. He garnered sponsorship support, a donated trailer, and built a portable sorting station to make it easier to sort the recyclables. He traveled to many area events, making it much easier for event organizers to recycle and reduce waste that would otherwise be sent to a landfill. His “The More You Care, The More You Recycle” project is now run by a local non-profit organization.

The President’s Environmental Youth Awards are administered by EPA’s Office of Environmental Education. Since 1971, the President has joined with EPA to recognize young people who work to protect our nation's air, water, land, and ecology. It is one of the most important ways that EPA and the Administration demonstrate commitment to environmental stewardship efforts created and conducted by our nation's youth.

More information about the President’s Environmental Youth Awards:

Make Soil Not Smoke - Virginia Grainger Elementary School, Okanogan, Washington, PEYA 2018 award winners at Wash. DC awards ceremony with Acting Administrator Wheeler. 2018 PEYA ceremony in Washington DC. EPA Acting Administrator Wheeler with award-winning students from Virginia Grainger Elementary School, Okanogan, Washington.Save Our Ocean from Plastic, a project by students from St. Mary Magdalen School, Everett, Washington, 2018 President’s Environmental Youth Awards, Honorable Mention.Students from St. Mary Magdalen School, Everett, Washington, created the “Save Our Ocean from Plastic” project to reduce plastic ocean pollution impacts to marine animals. 2018 PEYA award Honorable Mention.

Student team, Operation Sustain project, in Sammamish, Washington, received an honorable mention in the 2018 PEYA awards.High school students in Sammamish Washington created Operation Sustain, a video game for 3rd to 5th grade students that challenges them to build a sustainable city and learn about environmental issues. PEYA 2018 Honorable Mention. Robert Mcginnis Mobile Recycling Truck in Kenai AlaskaPEYA 2018 Honorable Mention: Robert McGinnis created The More You Care, The More You Recycle, a mobile recycling unit that travels to public events around Kenai, Alaska to collect and transport recyclables to a transfer station at little or no cost to event holders.