An effort to educate their classmates on recycling best practices landed a 10-member team from Blue Ridge Middle School with a $1,000 prize Thursday night.
P.A.W. (Protecting Against Wastefulness) Patrol won the top prize in the 2022 Step Up Loudoun competition, which challenges middle and high school students to identify community problems and develop solutions.
The team got its start with a concern that items tossed into recycling bins at Loudoun schools actually weren’t being recycled, and a desire to promote a circular economy that keeps materials in circulation longer.
They began with a tally of the material found in the recycling collection buckets throughout the school—finding “sadly it all fit into one large recycling bin.” They then worked with the school division’s chief of facilities to understand how the recycling program works and developed a series of educational videos to be included in the morning announcements. They also created posters to display on recycling bins explaining what materials should be tossed in. Building on their “think before you trash” motto, they also collected plastic shopping bags to be converted into Trex decking material.
“Our school had no information on recycling on its own. We had to start completely from scratch,” one team member said.
A survey found that students had an increased awareness of—and interest in—recycling as a result of their efforts. However, they were unable to measure any gains in the quantity of recycled material, after being informed students shouldn’t be touching the waste bins.
School Board Chairman Jeff Morse, who served on the judging panel, suggested he might know a way around that hurdle.
Two other judges gave the project high marks based on their own experience wrestling with recycling efforts.
Ara Bagdasarian, a member of the Leesburg Town Council, highlighted one challenge raised by the group and faced by the town in its own efforts—how the introduction of contaminated material into the recycling collection bin can result is all the items going to waste. Properly cleaning the material before recycling is an important part of the education process, he said.
Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) called recycling education critical. “Conservation does not begin at discard. It begins at consumption,” he said.
“Only 8% of plastic thrown in the trash gets recycled—8%—and it’s because we contaminate the loads,” he said. “This is a spot-one critical issue.”
Second place winner Krops for Kids is a registered nonprofit that collects produce that would be discarded at farm markets and grocery stores and delivers it to the Dulles South Soup Kitchen to be served as hot meals, already providing more than 2,000 pounds. They won a $750 prize.
Third place, Thriving Times, is a school-based club that strives to receive student stress and address mental health. The team won $500.
The remaining seven finalists were awarded $100 to support their projects. Lab Rats is a group of volunteer tutors who work to promote interest in STEAM among students in grades 2-5. Kounslr is an app designed to help students who don’t access their school-based counselors prepare for college. Player to Player provides an online platform for families to get sports equipment that they’ve outgrown or no longer use into the hands of other families who need it. Saving Wildlife from Vehicle Collisions proposed new roadside signage to post in areas with a high number of crashes involving deer and raptors. Opioid Epidemiology seeks to provide education and raise awareness of addictive medications among students. The Posture Monitor team developed a prototype device that alerts the wearer when they are slumping. Dream to S.T.R.E.A.M. provides hands-on classes to elementary school schools on topics including coding and science.
This year’s program started with 71 teams. Following a round of video presentations, the top 20 were invited to make their pitches to judges last month. On April 7, the top 10 made their final presentations to a panel of judges at Morven Park.
The program, organized by Loudoun Youth Inc., is in its 12th year.