A waste-reduction partnership between the Orange County Department of Education’s Inside the Outdoors program and OC Waste & Recycling has received the state’s highest environmental honor.
On the heels of netting a major accolade from the California School Boards Association, Project Zero Waste, a service-learning program that empowers students with hands-on environmental science instruction, has earned its collaborators the prestigious Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, or GEELA.
OCDE and OC Waste & Recycling were jointly recognized — along with just 11 other organizations — Tuesday night at the California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Sacramento.
In the photo above, CalEPA Secretary Matt Rodriquez, left, is joined on stage by Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County’s superintendent of schools; Isabel Rios, recycling and environmental programs manager with OC Waste & Recycling; Lori Kiesser, development director for Inside the Outdoors; and state Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach.
“This is a tremendous honor for our program,” Kiesser said. “The GEELA represents the top environmental award in the state, and it’s a testament to the collaborative efforts of Inside the Outdoors and OC Waste & Recycling, which are promoting sustainability and changing lives.”
Project Zero Waste teaches students the science of solid waste through Inside the Outdoors field trips as well as in-class lessons taught by Traveling Scientists. Program participants get to apply what they’ve learned to the design and implementation of solid waste reduction campaigns, which include campuswide recycling efforts, school gardens, community clean-up activities and other student-led activities.
The program, which in December earned the California School Boards Association’s Golden Bell Award, has offered science instruction to more than 325,000 students since it began in 2009. Follow-up assessments show these lessons increase STEM knowledge by an average of 14 percent, and schools engaging in Project Zero Waste have reduced their trash by up to 20,000 pounds annually.
“The lessons learned by students participating in Project Zero Waste extend beyond academics,” Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares said recently. “In applying science lessons to develop solutions to real-world problems, students gain team-building, creativity and leadership skills.”
Established in 1993, the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award is presented annually to individuals, companies and organizations that use sustainable business practices to conserve energy, reduce waste or prevent pollution while contributing to their local economy.
Finalists are selected by a panel of judges that includes the Governor’s Office and the secretaries of the California Environmental Protection Agency; the Natural Resources Agency; the Department of Food and Agriculture; the State Transportation Agency; the Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency; the Labor and Workforce Development Agency; and the Health and Human Services Agency.
Each year, the panel evaluates and announces winners in the following categories: Environmental Education; Ecosystem and Land Use Stewardship; Climate Change; Zero Emission Vehicle Dealers; Sustainable Practices, Communities or Facilities; and Waste Reduction.
For more information on the GEELA program and this year’s recipients, click here. To learn more about Project Zero Waste, check out the video below, and be sure to visit the Inside the Outdoors website to get involved.