2023 Waste Reduction Student Scholarships

Student Scholarships

RecycleSmart initiated the student scholarship program in 2015 to inspire and reward student leaders who have made significant contributions to reducing waste at their high schools. Since that time, student leaders from Acalanes High School, Campolindo High School, Miramonte High School, Las Lomas High School, Northgate High School, Monte Vista High School and San Ramon Valley High School have received RecycleSmart scholarships. 

The 2023 scholarship application was prominently posted on the RecycleSmart website and distributed to all high schools in the RecycleSmart service area through environmental clubs, leadership classes, administration communications and college counselors. Seniors participating in the RecycleSmart Internship Program were also encouraged to apply. Applicants are required to describe how they are contributing to waste prevention and sorting at their schools and/or in the greater central Contra Costa community.

For the 2022-2023 school year, two students stand out as environmental stewards and community educator leaders. RecycleSmart is pleased to acknowledge the achievements of these students with the award of the Waste Reduction Student Scholarship.

Michaela Baak – Carondelet High School

In early 2023,  Michaela contacted RecycleSmart as part of her research to develop a plan to encourage composting in multi-family homes for her Gold Award Girl Scouts project proposal. 

The spark for her waste reduction project began in an AP Biology at Carondelet High School. As a junior, Michaela was transformed, learning the environmental impact of composting, or rather, not composting. Her new understanding that organic waste in the landfill is a cause of methane gas and that composting is a clear alternative for individuals to decrease greenhouse gas emissions was very motivating. As a senior, she began to plan an educational campaign for multi-family residences to understand the importance of composting and have a positive influence on the climate crisis.

Living in an apartment on Oak Road in Walnut Creek has given Michaela firsthand knowledge of how challenging it is to compost. For any resident, beginning to collect food scraps is challenging due to fears such as:  compost can be messy, smell bad, or leak. At multi-family complexes, composting has more hurdles because the residents are dependent on their landlord to set up the infrastructure to compost properly (and this a current focus of RecycleSmart education!).  Communication regarding free kitchen compost pails and the importance of composting is usually directed to the property manager. SB 1383 requires the property managers to annually provide information about organic waste recovery requirements to their tenants, but that information may not always make it to every resident.

To address the issues of composting in multi-family buildings, Michaela plans to produce a comprehensive video to help residents learn how to use food scrap pails and routinely bring them to the hauler’s organic bin in their complex. She has already created a 90-second awareness video for a scientific research class, and points to it as an example of her awareness campaign strategy. By doing a few green cart-lid flips and seeing the nearly empty bins on her block, Michaela knows there is a need to conduct a compost awareness project.

Michaela is working with Republic Services to acquire kitchen counter compost pails, and in June she will host a distribution day where these pails will be available for pickup. On each pail she will adhere a QR code that links to a video educating Oak Road residents about composting and instructions on how to do it correctly.  Emails will be collected from those willing to participate in a follow-up survey. Two weeks after the pail distribution event, Michaela will analyze the results of her outreach campaign from returned surveys and lid-flipping. Her scholarship check will be sent to her upon project completion.

Michaela is a resident of Walnut Creek. She will attend UC Berkeley as an Environmental Science Major this fall.

Composting Short Documentary https://youtu.be/NXWFFjyGv0U

Mary Laska – Acalanes High School

As an Acalanes student and member of the Lafayette community, Mary has achieved a personal goal to increase awareness of climate-related issues and inspire action.

Recent personal action includes: volunteering for Lindsay Wildlife Experience’s Animal Hospital, interning with the RecycleSmart School Program, partnering with the Acalanes High School Leadership Environmental Board to improve sorting on campus, participating on a panel for the 10th annual Zero Waste Youth Conference regarding e-waste as an upstream solution, and producing and showcasing a comprehensive documentary called Be The Change.

At a young age, Mary discovered the natural world through “science fun” at home, observing moldy foods with her dad, and learning the power of plants to cure illness in the botanical gardens near their home in Singapore. As a member of the Girl and BSA Scouts, the outdoors has become her home away from home. Watching documentaries and taking every science class possible has enhanced her appreciation and understanding of the need to protect the environment. 

Harnessing her passion in her Girl Scout Gold Award project, Mary created a thirty-minute documentary focused on inspiring young people to love the world and protect it by taking personal action to reduce climate change. Be The Change demonstrates multiple waste prevention and reduction methods such as: waste sorting, composting, repurposing and repairing electronics, recycling appliances, and refrigerants, and reducing consumption of single-use plastics.

To showcase her documentary, Mary held one event at the Acalanes Performing Arts Center for high school students, and a second at the Lafayette Library Community Hall for middle schoolers. Of course, the refreshments served were rescued from her local Noah’s Bagels and by using the food recovery software application, “Too Good To Go.”

Mary created a quiz and a survey to test the knowledge of her audiences, and their desire to take action for the environment after watching her documentary. Of note, 55 of 56 people who took the post-documentary survey committed to one or more actions to reduce their carbon footprint. Of those, 76% pledged to “sort my waste, whenever I am able.” Additionally, Be The Change has received over 150 views on YouTube in two months. The video is accompanied by a survey, and 66% of the surveyed viewers said that “they want to share what they learned with someone else,” thus creating an even larger impact for change.

In addition, Mary was a speaker at the 10th Annual Zero Waste Youth USA Conference in March of this year, presenting on “Upstream Solutions for Downstream Pollution.”

Mary will be studying Society and Environment at UC Berkeley in the fall.

Be The Change video https://youtu.be/oR3Y43ZBDfY

Zero Waste Youth USA http://www.zerowasteyouthusa.org/convergence-2023—virtual.html