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Five West Haven, Conn. Students Honored by White House and EPA for Environmental Project

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David Deegan (

BOSTON - Five students and their teacher from West Haven, Conn., were recognized today as winners of the 2016 President's Environmental Youth Award (PEYA). The program recognizes outstanding environmental stewardship projects by K-12 youth. These students demonstrate the initiative, creativity, and applied problem-solving skills needed to tackle environmental problems and find sustainable solutions.

The students – Arya Bairat, James Rodrigues, Eran Avni-Singer, Sebastian-Morelli Peyton, and Jonathan Yun – started a team at the Engineering and Science University Magnet School (Part of New Haven Public School District) in West Haven. They conducted their project with the support and guidance of their biology teacher, Ginger Meetze, and parent sponsor, Dhanahree Bairat. Their project addressed the problem of excessive plastics in the waste stream and air pollution, and their impact on the environment.

"Today, we are pleased to honor these impressive young leaders, who demonstrate the impact that a few individuals can make to protect our environment," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. "These students are empowering their peers, educating their communities, and demonstrating the STEM skills needed for this country to thrive in the global economy.”

Each year the PEYA program honors environmental awareness projects developed by young individuals, school classes (kindergarten through high school), summer camps, public interest groups and youth organizations.

After reflecting on pollution problems in their own community and around the world, the five West Haven ninth graders, calling themselves "PKN," decided to address their concern about air pollution and the large amount of petroleum-based plastics filling landfills. A special concern of the students was people's use of inexpensive masks to filter out particulate matter in the air, and the waste created by the disposal of these masks. The PKN team developed a low-cost biodegradable plastic using pumpkins, a local agricultural product. During the project, PKN partnered with a local farm to repurpose pumpkins that would otherwise be thrown away as waste at the end of the fall season. The team continues to explore options to commercially distribute masks made from this cost-efficient bioplastic. The group is also working to develop biodegradable plastic bags made from their innovative material. The group met with a local environmental technology company to further develop a business model for PKN's products.

These 2016 winners of the annual President's Environmental Youth Awards were among 15 student projects nationwide honored for their efforts. Other students recognized come from states including California, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

The PEYA program promotes awareness of our nation's natural resources and encourages positive community involvement. Since 1971, the President of the United States has joined with EPA to recognize young people for protecting our nation's air, water, land and ecology. It is one of the most important ways EPA and the Administration demonstrate commitment to environmental stewardship efforts created and conducted by our nation's youth.

More information:

EPA environmental education info (

This year's new President's Environmental Youth Award winners (