2020 Waste Reduction Student Scholarships


Congratulations to our 2020 Student Scholarship Recipients!

Alexandra (Lexi) Yomizo

Campolindo High School

At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, Campolindo’s volume of landfill material was higher than the other schools in Lexi’s school district. She recognized that solving this problem would require changing the behavior of the entire Campolindo community. Lexi worked to educate and motivate the student body with assistance from her science teachers, three student leadership boards, AP art students, and two environmental clubs. Additionally, she utilized RecycleSmart’s expertise and her teachers’ leadership to approach the administration and custodial team to come up with a plan to reduce waste at her school. As a student leader, Lexi committed to taking on the responsibility to help improve student behavior by creating clear three-stream stations and educating the student body with a video and signage. Approximately two months after her educational video was shown to the student body, she notes the diversion rates increased from 48% to 54%.  

The video production she acknowledged was very time-consuming, but the project allowed her to connect to various groups of the student population (Sustainability Board, the Tech board, and the Spirit board), and be an environmental leader. Lexi had two leadership positions during the 2019-20 school year, co-president of the Environmental Club and Campolindo’s Commissioner of Sustainability. She was also involved in a district-wide committee for environmental awareness. This district-wide committee and the Commissioner of Sustainability position at Campolindo are both means to make her work sustainable after she graduates.

Lexi’s sort video successfully caught the Campolindo student body’s attention using humor. Additionally, the video production was a valuable lesson to her in the importance of collaborating with different groups on a large goal.

Lexi is a resident of Moraga and will be studying Environmental Science at California State University Monterey Bay

Ava Sparacio 

Campolindo High School

Ava first became involved in waste reduction in middle school by joining the Eco Club and volunteered as a bin monitor. As an eighth grader, she was co-president and worked diligently to find a solution to remove styrofoam from their campus. It took months of planning, letter writing, meetings, and presentations with the school board to finally pass a ban on styrofoam. This process enlightened Ava. She learned even as a child she had a powerful voice and could initiate change at her school and beyond. When she started high school, Ava stayed involved with her Eco Club’s until they successfully banned styrofoam from her middle school and all three elementary schools in their district. This huge win motivated Ava to continue her environmental work in high school.

As a high school environmental leader, Ava’s main project was to make a three-stream waste reduction system an official part of the school’s responsibilities, in order to make the system sustainable. During her junior year, Ava and the Environmental Club worked to reintroduce a functioning three-bin system. Her fellow classmates expected their high school to have the same waste reduction as their middle school, but this was not the case. She was surprised to learn the administration would rather pay the fee for noncompliance on landfill diversion than uphold the system the Club was attempting to restart. They informed the school board of their resolution to make a three-stream system work, and convinced the student leadership class to take out classroom recycling as a temporary solution. 

As a senior and co-president of the club, Ava helped lead her club in accomplishing their goal to get the trash, recycling, and compost to become integrated into the custodians’ bin management responsibilities. They also zip-tied the bins to help the community always find three options for waste, and encouraged three-bin usage beyond lunch, such as: science labs, garden class and football games. 

Ava was additionally supportive of the newly formed Zero Waste Club. She advised them to go to the board in order to make their efforts to eliminate plastic utensils from the cafeteria last.

Ava is proud to be an environmental activist, and has been involved in movements like Fridays for the Future and Save Mount Diablo. Her successes as an Environmental leader at school has given her the confidence to speak out about what it means to be a teenager in a world where it feels like nothing is being conserved.

In the video above, Ava summarizes her waste reduction efforts at Campolino. Ava lives in Moraga and will study Civil Engineering with the intent of learning about sustainable building practices and city planning. She will attend California State University at Chico in the fall.

Elena Rich

Las Lomas High School

Concerned about food waste in the United States as a humanitarian and environmental issue, Elena joined the Green Team at Las Lomas in the fall of 2019 to address waste reduction challenges she noticed at her high school. 

At their first meeting, the newly formed Green Team agreed the Las Lomas recycling and composting system was inadequate. The team decided their top goal was to establish a functioning waste reduction system. There was no need to conduct a waste-audit, it was obvious the school was not sorting.  

During this process of inventorying the school’s bins, they discovered twice the number of trash bins as recycle and compost bins combine. The team mapped out a more efficient placement of bins and worked with RecycleSmart to order materials. They noticed an instant increase in sorting on campus just by setting up the three-bin system, placing bins in high-traffic areas and attaching clear signs. The signage was helpful in educating the community, even the members of the Green Team were not aware that food-soiled paper containers could be composted at school. Additionally, the team created original posters to help improve the student body’s sorting awareness.

Prior to establishing the new three-bin system, the Green Team needed approval from the administration. RecycleSmart communicated with the Director of Custodial Services for the District reporting a decrease from 88 to 83 total bins with the proposed removal of 32 landfill and the addition of 27 recycle and compost bins. Elena effectively followed up multiple times with the Vice President of her school in order to gain approval for her team’s plan. It was also helpful to speak directly to the Las Lomas custodian, and the team did make some changes to their plans to accommodate his concerns about litter. He wanted to see improvements before removing as many landfill bins as they desired. 

The Las Lomas Green Team did not elect a student leader, they wanted every member to take leadership roles when appropriate. Nevertheless, there were multiple times when a leader was needed and Elena graciously stepped into the role. She organized agendas for their meetings, communicated to her team in between meetings and reached out to other student groups to solicit support. The student leadership team agreed to present the new bin system and use an announcement Elena created to promote more awareness. Elena also motivated her team to participate and educate the student body at a Wellness Fair. 

Due to COVID-19 an official audit of the new three-bin system and landfill diversion was not possible. The team did observe improvements in how students sorted, and heard students talk about the helpfulness of the new signs. Additionally, they were told the AP Human Geography teacher had her class applaud the new set up and the custodian acknowledged that some kids really do care about proper sorting. Upon a visual check of the bins about two weeks after installation, the team observed a need for more education. Unfortunately, some of the planned outreach was not conducted. The Wellness Fair was canceled and the leadership team was unable to go to each classroom to promote the new program.

The experience of launching an improved waste reduction system on a high school campus, leading a team of environmentally concerned students, working with the administration to get a project completed, and slowly discovering support from other groups on campus made a lasting impression on Elena. She is invigorated to continue participating in environmentally sustainable projects, and plans to find opportunities of increased scale.

Eleana lives in Walnut Creek and will study Environmental Science at either UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz or Willamette University.

Tess Hornbeck

Miramonte High School

After returning from a trip to Ecuador with the Global Student Embassy, Tess was inspired to take on an environmentally-oriented internship. In Ecuador, she met peers with fewer resources doing incredible environmental work. Once home, Tess looked for a big environmental problem to solve at her school. As it turns out her school’s biggest issue was not deforestation like in Ecuador, but waste.

She initiated an internship with RecycleSmart and expected work she could tackle independently to decrease waste. Quickly she learned her time needed to be focused on coordinating with other stakeholders and spreading awareness. She acknowledges that setting up the bins and signs to relaunch the three-stream system was the easy part. The biggest impact she made came from the emails, forms and documents she created to help organize the many moving parts and people involved in making this social change. She also learned the frustrations of waiting for someone to do their part, and the huge challenge of attempting to change the deeply rooted habits of her community.

It is important to note that Tess created resources for her school which can be used at other high schools. First, she created a form to recruit and coordinate student volunteers for bin monitoring. Second, the sorting guide attached for her peers to help them feel confident on the job. Third, a form for teachers to complete and indicate their recycling inventory to make collecting this information more efficient.

Tess found support from the Environmental Club, science teacher, RecycleSmart mentors and student leadership team. After establishing the possibility of diverting many items from the landfill with a waste-audit and mapping out the bin locations, Tess and the Environmental Club got approval from the Vice Principal to relaunch the three-stream stations on campus.  Tess also implemented a student-run bin monitoring program in which student volunteers facilitate each station at lunch. The Environmental Club and Tess also created a video with clear sorting instructions for their community. Unfortunately due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it was never shown. 

The early closure of school halted the efforts of Tess and the Environmental Club, so they did not get to see any real results. They completed almost two weeks of bin monitoring, a daunting task no other high school in the district was able to organize. 

Tess lives in Orinda. She will attend the University of New Hampshire as a Sustainability Dual Major. This program of study enables students to understand and act on the environmental and social challenges and solutions needed to create a more sustainable world.

Krista Casimere

Miramonte High School

As an AP Environmental Science student, Krista was awakened to the beauty of the environment and determined to minimize her footprint.  Her first step was to found and co-lead an Environmental Club at Miramonte. She converted herself into a “doer” and took on the responsibility of holding herself accountable for her actions regarding their impact on the environment. One personal example is her preference to buy used clothes and redesign them to make them unique for her style. One of the Club’s early meetings involved raffling off  prizes including a reusable water bottle and reusable straws as a means to educate themselves on the benefits of reusable items and waste reduction.

The main project for the Environmental Club was the installation of a refined waste system for our campus. Miramonte had an excess of recycling carts and bins, but lacked enough compost and landfill bins to accompany them. It was easy for Krista to observe students tossing the wrong things into the recycling bins consistently, and she knew this “recycling” was ending up in the landfill. As proof, two AP Environmental Science classes conducted waste audits to demonstrate how all three streams were contaminated. This helped launch action to determine the best locations for three-stream systems and work with the administration and RecycleSmart to reset the waste system at Miramonte. 

Establishing bin monitoring was highly recommended by her experienced science teacher, so Krista helped motivate the Environmental Club to sign up for volunteer shifts at lunch. Having student monitors created a comfortable and friendly environment for all students to be able to educate each other. The Club also helped produce a video to help educate the student body, but the school was shut down before the student leadership team could show the video to each class. Not only was the student leadership team going to make announcements to each class, but they also planned to participate in the bin monitoring. This was a hopeful crossover of environmental concern from a group of students not involved in the Environmental Club or AP Environmental Science class. It is this type of collective involvement that can help shift the culture of a community. 

Sorting appeared to improve after just a few weeks of monitoring the new three-stream system, but real data was not available. Good momentum was established this year and with the return of a supportive Assistant Principal, Science teacher and the newly formed District Climate Committee a continuation of these efforts look promising. 

Krista lives in Orinda. She will study Atmospheric Science in college.