President's Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) Winners
Read the press release about this year's PEYA winners. Congratulations!
EPA Region 1:
by Jack Ryan Dalton
In his hometown, Nashua, New Hampshire, ten-year-old Jack goes by the name Kid Conservationist. His conservation work began when he first learned about the effect of palm oil and deforestation on the hundreds of endangered animal species in the rainforest, including his favorite, orangutans. Jack’s YouTube channel, “Kid Conservationist,” hosts his fun, educational videos teaching people simple ways to be good to the environment. Jack interviews experts in their field, including a National Geographic photographer and public relations director at Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, to showcase the incredible work being done by people around the globe to help protect our planet. His channel has reached thousands of people and inspired change in many. Jack has also presented to hundreds of children at zoos, museums, and schools throughout the U.S. and around the world. Additionally, Jack designed his own Kid Conservationist recycled material reusable bags to sell to his community to reduce the use of single-use plastic products. The $3,000 that Jack raised helped pay for orangutan care in Indonesia and the planting of more than 6,000 trees in critical rainforests. In August 2019, Jack was named the Youth Ambassador for Orangutan Alliance, an international non-profit organization. Jack has been a part of many additional projects and activities, including collecting donations and bringing them to the Memphis Zoo and writing a children's book about planting trees in the rainforest. Jack plans to continue to spread optimism and hope for environmental improvements to everyone he meets.
Codman Outdoor Community Garden Space
by Codman Academy High School Seniors
Team Members: Joanna Casimir, Keianna Grant, and Takhya Rather-Grady
Urban schools usually lack the resources for students to have access to school gardens. In July 2020, three students from Codman Academy High School in Dorchester, Massachusetts, set out to change that by creating the Codman Outdoor Community Learning Garden. The students, along with a teacher sponsor and a farm educator, built raised garden beds. Adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols, the students worked two-to-three days a week to plant a variety of vegetables and herbs. Very quickly, meeting every week at the garden became the students’ passion. Although the Academy utilized virtual learning during the 2020-2021 academic year, the students continued to meet weekly to maintain the garden and share weekly harvests with the Codman Square Community Health Center staff. During the pandemic, these front-line health center staff found the adjacent garden comforting, relaxing and peaceful and were also thankful for all the garden produce.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, this project delivered healthier, locally grown, and accessible food in a community where healthy and fresh foods are not always an option. The students built a garden ecosystem that brightened the courtyard, enticed bees to a place where they had not been seen before, and welcomed everyone who needed a place to reflect, eat their lunch, or pick herbs. Amazingly, the students’ garden grew until more than 73 pounds of organic vegetables, herbs and flowers that were donated to the health center staff. The bountiful harvest included: squash, kale, popcorn, tomatoes, cucumbers, mixed greens, scallions, eggplant, fennel, beans, cabbage, chard, sweet peppers, hot peppers, chives, cilantro, oregano, rosemary, thyme, lemon balm, mint, beets, carrots, strawberries, nasturtium, and ornamental flowers. Working in the garden helped keep the students physically healthy and fit and the garden created a special and meaningful project during a time when students were navigating individual challenges through COVID-19 during their senior year of high school. Younger students already have plans to continue tending the garden and continuing the project into the future.
EPA Region 2:
Reusable T-Shirt Bags
by George L. Catrambone School Green Team
Team Members: Alexis Applegate, Jacob R. Miller, Isadora Melo Muniz, Ashley Taylor M. Rocha, and Kelsey Ann White
After learning about New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s ban on single-use plastic and brown bags, 2nd grade students at George L. Catrambone School created a “Recycle T-shirts” campaign. Working with teachers and staff, the students researched the enormous environment problems of plastic in oceans and how plastic bags contribute to the problem. They also learned about the harmful environmental effects of producing paper and how recycling paper requires a lot of energy. Armed with this knowledge, the students decided to make a difference in their community by organizing a schoolwide “T-shirt” donation drive, where students, families, and staff collected t-shirts. The students then turned those t-shirts into reusable tote bags replacing plastic bags. Additionally, the students created fun videos to show people how to make their own t-shirt bags. During the project, the students developed a survey gauging how much their fellow students know about recycling and their recycling habits at home, After the project was completed, the students gave back to the community by giving away the bags they created, ultimately reducing waste. These young students are proud of the difference they made in their community and to the environment.
Recycle My Battery
by Sri Nihal Tammana
Nihal, a middle school student in Edison, New Jersey, created a public awareness and collection campaign focused on helping people recycle all types of batteries based on his desire to bring about a radical change in the way people think and act in respect to used batteries. He started a non-profit organization and website, Recycle My Battery (https://recyclemybattery.org), that members of his community use as a resource to find collection sites for battery recycling. Partnering with Call2Recycle, a national battery recycling organization, Nihal set up certified battery collection bins at schools, libraries, and community centers in his community to make it easy for people to drop off used batteries. Recycle My Battery also provides two-way priority shipping free of charge to public and private organizations. To date, he has collected and recycled more than 55,000 used batteries and educated more than 400,000 adults and kids on the importance of and need to properly recycle used batteries. Nihal successfully created a network of more than 60 youth to help meet his goal of bringing down to zero the 15 billion batteries that are thrown in the trash every year.
EPA Region 3:
Lake Barga Biodiversity Project
Sanuthi is a 3rd grade student at Clover Hill Elementary School in Midlothian, Virginia. She is also a Bear Cub Scout who loves camping, hiking, and learning all about wildlife and their habitats. Her “Lake Barga Biodiversity Project” refers to one of nine ponds located in the Albright Scout Reservation, a 568-acre camp located in Virginia with extensive hiking trails, ponds, and campgrounds.
During the summer of 2020, Sanuthi helped Dr. Tom McKee make a video documentary about the reservation where she has explored many habitats, plants, and animals. She spent many hours sampling, photographing, and recording species.
Sanuthi’s project has helped educate other Cub Scouts, their families, and the public about the biodiversity at the Lake Barga area and the need of biodiversity conservation. Through her project, Sanuthi learned about animals and plants by directly observing them in their natural habitats at different times of the year. Additionally, Sanuthi learned how important water quality is and the effects of water pollution. She discovered that finding some species meant that the water in the ponds of the reservation is not polluted and the environment is healthy. This project offered Sanuthi the opportunity to be a citizen scientist and collect data for a global citizen science project.
The Bioma Project
by The Bioma Project
Team Members: David Balakirsky and Jeffrey Tong
The Bioma Project is a youth environmental initiative that promotes environmental stewardship among future conservationists. The Bioma Project, which is 100% led and operated by youth, is now in place at 40 schools in Maryland and encompasses 2,350 students. This program began in 2016 after students cleaned up a neighborhood stream, only to return weeks later to find new trash. Members of the Bioma Project team achieved their goals by placing aquariums of local ecosystems in classrooms and developing their own award-winning, hands-on curriculum. Each aquarium, stocked with 11 species of native fish and plants, simulates a local aquatic ecosystem for observation and interaction by students. While the schools were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bioma Project members raised funds and designed, built, and distributed mini-aquariums to low-income children, bringing to them a “slice of nature” during the isolation. The Bioma Project also periodically mobilizes youth volunteers to clean up streams in their community.
In this club, youth leaders vigorously create and test new ways of teaching environmental science and design new project ideas, such as an aquaculture system for freshwater bivalves. Members of the Bioma Project also serve on the National Youth Leadership Council. The aim of the Bioma Project is to solve environmental illiteracy and apathy by reaching out to future torchbearers of conservation.
EPA Region 4:
Kids Saving Oceans
by Miles Fetherston-Resch
Miles started Kids Saving Oceans because he saw how the environment is treated and wanted to do something to help. As a 6-year old, there were not many ways for him to meaningfully engage in marine conservation, and donating his accumulated life savings of $13 did not seem impactful enough. After thinking through how to make money to donate to groups doing the conservation work that he was too young to do, Miles decided to start his own business to turn ocean plastics into something people could buy. He named this effort Kids Saving Oceans and began with a humble product line – kid’s t-shirts, a one-size-fits-all hat, and four sticker designs – and set up a folding table at a festival celebrating local businesses in Florida. What he found that day was a deeply inspirational response to a kid's vision of stewardship and passion for environmental conservation.
Since then, Miles has given talks on why he advocates for healthy oceans, clean beaches, and thriving marine life; organized beach cleanups for school, civic, and neighborhood groups; and inspired his own school to ban single-use plastics and expand recycling and composting programs. He also gives all the proceeds to organizations that help the oceans. As of January 2021, Miles has raised more than $18,000 for ocean and beach conservation. More important than these discrete community engagement moments, and more important even than meeting his $1 million donation goal, is Miles’s message that one person can make a difference. Miles believes, and his business is founded on the idea, that one person's choices can and will change the world when they are multiplied by a lot of people. His mission is to make those choices for himself and his family and his business, but also to inspire others to see that their choices matter too.
Baxter Plastic Film Recycling
by Roman K. Phillips
After recognizing that his local convenience center stopped accepting plastic film for recycling, Roman contacted the York County (South Carolina) Solid Waste Collection and Recycling department to research why the material was no longer being accepted. Roman toured the recycling facility, learning firsthand how the recycling of plastic film disrupts the facility. When plastic film is caught in the recycling machines, the facility shuts down for several hours which costs taxpayers money because the employees are unable to work. Roman also learned how plastic film must remain clean and dry to be recycled, which posed another challenge because York County lacked the space to store plastic film.
Upon further research, Roman learned about Trex® and their recycling plastic film program and decided to start a plastic film recycling initiative in his neighborhood. His project goals were to educate his neighbors about the importance of recycling plastic film and how to prevent plastic film from being sent to landfills. Throughout 2020, Roman educated his neighbors through social media posts and articles for his neighborhood newsletter. After receiving approval from his neighborhood homeowner’s association, he constructed storage containers for the collection of plastic film. Approximately twice each week in 2020, Roman collected plastic film dropped off by neighbors at his two collection containers, sorted and weighed the film, and then dropped the film off at approved recycling locations. In 2020, Roman, with the help of his neighbors, prevented 2,107 pounds of plastic film from being sent to local landfills.
EPA Region 5:
Project Name: NAV Garden For Girls
by NAV Garden for Girls
Team Members: Nia Lambert and Alexandra Sweitzer
NAV Garden For Girls is a nonprofit organization in Chicago that aims to teach underserved elementary school girls about science and women's empowerment with a fun approach as an after-school program. NAV’s mission includes working toward bridging the gender gap in the STEAM field through environmental science and STEM education. The project began as a freshman year biology assignment and quickly grew into a city-wide organization consisting of more than 30 high school student volunteers. For the past four spring seasons (2018-2021), co-founders Alexandra and Nia have taught four 16-week-long programs to 1st and 2nd grade girls in underserved neighborhoods and schools of Chicago. The programs are delivered through workshops, crafts, games, and learning packets. The science curriculum includes an array of subjects, from climate change, recycling, and endangered animals, to sustainability, and gardening. NAV ends the program by building a garden for the school and neighborhood community. By encouraging environmental education and STEM education at NAV from such a young age, girls are being taught to not be afraid to chase their dreams and defy the gender norms of our society.
EPA Region 6:
Project Name: The Envi Bottle
by Steffek Taylor Rainey
Steffek estimates that a dump truck’s worth of plastic enters the ocean every minute and 40% of all plastic waste in the Gulf of Mexico originates from the Mississippi River, which runs through his hometown of Baton Rouge. Steffek recognized the connections between his use of single-use plastics and pollution, particularly how reusable water bottles provide convenience in mobility that silverware does not. Using Louisiana State University Innovation Park, he researched, designed, and prototyped a reusable bottle that includes storage compartments to house reusable silverware and a straw. Steffek predicts that each person who uses the bottles consistently to replace single-use plastics could save 55 pounds of plastic waste from being disposed of per year. While the bottle is in the pre-manufacturing stage, he has performed environmental advocacy work with state legislators, the head of the Louisiana Department of Education, the Louisiana Governor Policy Advisor, and the founder and president of a large food company. Louisiana State University has also expressed interest in purchasing the bottles for its incoming class, a move that Steffek predicts could save 426,250 pounds of plastic from polluting the environment annually.
EPA Region 7:
Project Name: Just Say No to Palm Oil
by Adelyn Elizabeth Meyer
Adelyn has always had a fierce love of nature and animals. She watched a science video on palm oil, the world’s most popular vegetable oil, and learned that palm oil is a major driver of deforestation, which leads to habitat loss and threatens wildlife. The video sparked in Adelyn a need for action and she soon began checking all the food products in her home to see if they contained palm oil. She discovered that palm oil was contained in nearly everything. When checking her favorite dairy-free cookies, Adelyn was distraught to learn that they also contained palm oil so she decided to make a video to send to the company asking them to stop using palm oil. The company received the video and replied three days later, telling Adelyn about their research for an alternative to replace palm oil. Prompted by additional project requirements from her teacher, Adelyn discovered the palm oil issue to be more complex than simply ending the use of palm oil. Adelyn learned that calling for more action is a step in the right direction but contains many steps including writing letters to representatives, educating strangers on elevators, ensuring her family is supporting companies committed to sustainable palm oil practices when possible, and contacting companies that are not to advocate change. Adelyn has committed to being a personal steward for the environment through this project.
Project Name: Rebuilding Native Habitats in the Community
by James David Karslake
James, an 8th grader, rebuilt four native habitats in St. Louis, Missouri helping to restore environmental sustainability to the locations. One of the habitats restored included a park overgrown with honeysuckle, which is an invasive species. Working with a sponsor who wanted to create a butterfly garden, James followed professional guidelines to remove the honeysuckle and conducted experiments to determine the best soil conditions before planting more than 100 native plants, including milkweed, purple coneflower, blue lobelia, and aster, that provide shelter and food for butterflies. In another park, he created an environment for native bees by building bee houses; planting a bee garden with asters, raspberries, and purple coneflower; and bringing in 2,000 native leafcutter bees. The number of bees in the park increased by 1000%.
To address an eroding creek bank, James coordinated the planting of 65 large native trees in this area to create a forest around the creek and 75 black willow stakes along the creek. Before the planting, he conducted an experiment that determined that black willow stakes would prevent erosion. James also led efforts to remove more than 120 pounds of trash from the creek. The fourth habitat was focused on restoring a brown bat colony in a rural area suffering from disease and habitat loss. Ten rocket-box houses were built and installed over 100 acres; monitoring confirms that the bats are now thriving. Each project took about 10 to 16 months to complete, including time needed to monitor the projects through the end of 2020. Over 240 people in the local community contributed their time and effort to restore these habitats.
EPA Region 8:
Seas of Trees
by Ayla Oceanna Kanow
Ayla does not take growing up in Telluride, Colorado, for granted. She has been surrounded by nature her whole life. Realizing that not all children were as lucky as she is, Ayla decided to start Sea of Trees to get teens involved with nature while helping to protect the planet. Ayla has planted trees all over Telluride by working with local student groups. Seas of Trees has become a global non-profit, working with hundreds of kids while planting trees around the world to lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In 2020, Seas of Trees planted 1,500 trees, raised over $7,000, and sequestered 576,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. In Guatemala, Ayla sponsored indigenous students to plant 270 trees to reforest a hillside that was tragically burnt down several years ago. She also helped complete a project in Kathmandu, Nepal at an all-girls school. A group of students spent a day planting fruit trees. This specific project empowered local women and the fruit trees have begun providing healthy and nourishing food for the school. Sea of Trees has big plans for the future by continuing to plant trees locally and all over the world!
EPA Region 9:
Project Name: SOS: Save Our Sharks - A Fintastic Tale
by Mount Madonna School's 5th Grade
Team Members: Vaden Barr, Solomon Coleman, Kenzie Culbertson, Mariska Goldstein, Delmi McWilliams, David Monclus, Romy Sirk-Traugh, Shawn Wensmann, and Noa Zands
“SOS: Save Our Sharks - A Fintastic Tale” is a student-driven project that supports the conservation of sharks from Monterey Bay in California and across the globe. The 5th grade class at Mount Madonna School, in Watsonville, California, created an educational movie to show how people’s choices impact sharks and the marine ecosystem, raised funds for shark conservation, wrote letters to elected representatives (including the governor of Florida) to support a shark fin trade ban, and cleaned up local beaches. The students wrote public service announcements and held presentations to inspire citizen action and encouraged restaurants and families to reduce plastic waste. The students also donated the money from their movie sales to organizations that directly support shark conservation. Along with the organization “Save our Shores,” the students worked to clean up local beaches and hosted a virtual presentation during World Oceans Week to educate the public about sharks and how everyday choices impact these keystone species. The students also worked with “Shark Stewards” to create educational materials to share with other schools. The class presented their research and project to their peers by creating an online presentation that was viewed by all students at their school. The project was chosen for WE Day in Los Angeles, and the students were asked to present their work at Santa Cruz Earth Day. All of this was done despite the COVID-19 pandemic and students having to work from home in 2020.
Project Name: Maji-Water Education and Security
by Hiya Shah
Hiya, an 11th grade student from Pleasanton, California, developed a project called, “Maji-Water Education and Security.” This project helps make real-time water quality information accessible to promote civilian and municipality proactiveness to conserve water, prevent water pollution, and secure clean water access to communities. Hiya developed a water conservation community education project that includes a youth-led outreach campaign and a full-length documentary. The documentary was presented on local TV to educate city leaders, businesses, and residents about the Bay Area’s water shortage and to persuade them to conserve water, resulting in the initiation of a youth-led Climate Plan in Pleasanton. Hiya also conducted research to make water quality information and education accessible to the public.
The City of Pleasanton recently discovered high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl contaminants (PFAS) in some of the city’s groundwater wells and has been working to address that. In response, Hiya conducted research to find solutions on how to degrade and filter PFAS (PFOS and PFOA) in an environmentally sustainable and home-based manner. Currently, available PFAS treatments either have low lifespans or require high levels of energy. In response, Hiya designed an environmentally friendly, bio-inspired PFAS removal and filtration system to reduce energy requirements. The filter syncs to Hiya’s mobile app, called Maji, to relay PFAS removal data as well. Hiya built the mobile app, Maji, for use by the public with a machine learning convolutional neural network to determine turbidity via image samples. This is integrated with Raspberry Pi sensors to retrieve temperature, conductivity, humidity and water sample images and local municipality testing data to relay data via a server to the mobile app. Biochemical parameters are used to calculate the water quality index in real-time of tap water at specific locations.
EPA Region 10:
Effective Climate Action Project
by Luna Silvana Abadia
Luna created the Effective Climate Action Project (ECAP) in her home state of Oregon to help focus public attention on systemic solutions to climate change, over individual changes. ECAP’s mission is centered on three core initiatives: interactive climate simulations, online education, and local policy work. Luna created a leadership team of diverse youth and worked to develop a brand, social media platform, website, and blog for the project. Luna took training to be able to facilitate climate simulations, reached out to local decision-makers and climate leaders, and identified local environmental policies to support. She wants to help people understand climate science by interpreting the latest science shown through computer models, and to communicate this in an easy-to-understand way for diverse audiences in several languages. Recently, ECAP has organized and run five climate simulation workshops online, engaging adults as well as more than 30 youth. Via online platforms, they have reached hundreds of people through educational posts on many environmental topics. They have partnered with organizations including Renew Oregon, Plan USA, and Portland Youth Climate Council. Luna is working with the Portland public schools to help create a new climate justice curriculum and provide training for teachers to run a climate simulation workshop with their students.
by Evergreen Makers
Team Members: Ashok Devireddy, Sameer Iyengar, Ankit Kapoor, Pranav Palleti, Shivam Pathak, Pranav Prabhuram, and Sukhamrit Singh
The Evergreen Makers are a team of seven 11th graders from San Jose, California, who created an autonomous mobile robot that uses machine learning and environmental data to suggest optimal crops and rotation patterns called Croptimize. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that up to two-thirds of all agricultural yield losses can be prevented through effective crop relocation and switching. Croptimize prepares farmers to deal with climate change causing rapid decreases in yields. By finding geolocations where farmers’ crops are suitable or providing more productive crop suggestions and rotation patterns, Croptimize can help prevent worldwide food shortages and support vulnerable farmers, allowing for economic sustainability of farms. Croptimize uses sunlight, humidity, temperature, soil pH, and NPK nutrient sensors to collect field data. With this data, Croptimize determines the crops and growing patterns most fit for a tested plot of land. The Evergreen Makers team has done outreach to universities and farmers and tested their robot extensively at local farms in the Central Valley and the Bay Area.
Green Gardens / Global Interactions of Topsoil Loss
by Ina Kathleen Chun
Ina, an 11th grader from Irvine, California, developed a project called, “Green Gardens/Global Interactions of Topsoil Loss.” Ina did research at the International Earth Science Symposium on the global effects of topsoil loss on global food security. With international colleagues from Australia, Kazakhstan, and the Czech Republic, she investigated how soil erosion and salinization was contributing to global food insecurity, examining case studies in multiple countries to pinpoint the relationship. After Ina directly experienced the devastating effects of climate change, during a California wildfire, she wanted to spread greater awareness about environmental crises. Working with local lawmakers, universities, and environmental groups, Ina created the Green Gardens initiative and designed a carbon sequestration garden for her community farm, donating the crop harvests to a local food bank. Ina led a team of high school volunteers to build the carbon sequestration garden and created an exhibit at a local community center to educate youth of all ages on the importance of carbon consciousness. With over 200 supporters and recognition from leading universities for the Green Gardens initiative, Ina and her team created engaging, educational pamphlets on carbon sequestration and sent them to elementary schools throughout California. Through her work, Ina hopes to inspire young world-changers in her community and tackle climate change together.
Recycle Plastic Waste into Asphalt Roads
by Green Team and Progressive Club
Team Members: Madison Bianes, Bryce Garrod, Isaac Lozano, Jacob Lozano, and Bibiana Martinez
By 2050, the ocean will have more plastic than fish, according to the World Economic Forum, if the current rate of plastic pollution continues. The Green Team and Progressive Club, a group of five 12th graders from Chula Vista, California, hope to address this issue through their project, “Recycle Plastic Waste into Asphalt Roads.” When California State Senator Ben Hueso spoke at their school, the Green Team and Progressive Club took his challenge for students to think seriously of solutions to our planet's growing environmental issues. The students made a presentation to Senator Hueso regarding the idea that recycled plastics could be melted into asphalt to make roads, thereby reducing reliance on landfills, and paving the way for a greener future. The Green Team and Progressive Club then worked with Senator Hueso to write State Bill (SB) 1238, which he introduced to the California Senate. The bill would appropriate funding to the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) to study using recycled plastics in asphalt roads and write specifications for its use in California. The students wrote two letters and delivered verbal testimonies to the Senate Transportation and Appropriation Committees in support of SB 1238. Later, the students spoke at a press conference where four news stations covered the bill's potential to revolutionize the plastic pollution problem. SB 1238, receiving no opposition, was passed unanimously in both committees and the full Senate, but due to Covid-19, the Assembly did not consider the bill in 2020. However, SB 1238 inspired a first-place winner in the CalTrans 2020 Western Association of State Transportation Officials Quality Awards, and Senator Hueso has committed to reintroduce the bill in 2021. As the next generation, the Green Team and Progressive Club is ready to tackle the global challenges that threaten our planet and people.
Youth Environmental Power Initiative
by Kelly Tung
Kelly, a 10th grader from Cupertino, California, founded the Youth Environmental Power Initiative (YEPI), a nonprofit organization that aims to spread awareness about sustainability and environmental justice, promote alternative transportation and safe biking and walking, and lead future leaders to fight against climate change and make positive changes for our environment. Kelly has led and implemented various projects including: the creation of education videos and films about environmental solutions; the organization of the YEPI Sustainability Summit; the publication of the YEPI Journal; the organization of the YEPI Environmental Art Contest; and legislative advocacy. These projects provided multiple pathways for youth to explore sustainability issues, connect with peers to advocate for climate change action, and create lasting and impactful change.