From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):
The ambition of local youth will soon result in new drinking-water stations at school to reduce the amount of plastic bottles used, new composting programs and the implementation of many other strategies aimed at efficiency and reducing waste.
Ten Weld County teams from five schools placed in the top 10 or earned honorable-mention recognition in the recent Caring for Our Watersheds contest.
Now, the high-placing local students will use money from the competition’s sponsor — Canada-based Agrium, Inc., an international agricultural-products supplier with offices in Loveland — to watch their ideas come to fruition in their schools.
In recent months, 55 total teams from schools across northern Colorado examined the local Poudre and Big Thompson watersheds, identified problems, developed strategies to address them and then created presentations, which were judged at a recent awards banquet at the University of Northern Colorado.
All top-10 finishers walked away from the banquet with $300 to $1,000 cash prizes, and a matching cash prize went to the teachers who sponsored those students in the contest.
Additionally, Agrium will pay up to $1,000 for each of the top-10 and honorable-mention projects to be implemented at the students’ schools.
This is the fourth year that local schools have participated in the Caring for Our Watersheds competition.
There are now 12 different contests across North America, South America and Australia.
First place went to a team from Resurrection Christian School in Loveland, but it was Greeley Central High School that came away with the most prize money.
Greeley Central had five teams finish in the top 10, while another team from the school earned an honorable-mention nod.
Ivonne Morales of Greeley Central placed the highest among all Weld County students, taking second place with her project, Easy Peasy H2O, which looks to reduce the amount of bottled water consumed in schools.
With the dollars from Agrium, she’ll help bring water-refilling stations to Greeley Central, encouraging students to refill reusable bottles instead of buying plastic-bottled water from vending machines.
The water-refilling stations would replace water fountains, alleviating the sanitary concerns some students have, Morales added.
Morales — president of the school’s Green Cats organization, and the Colorado representative for the Alliance for Climate Education who took part in a 35,000-person march in Washington, D.C., this month — has learned through her research that 1,250 plastic water bottles are thrown away every second in the U.S.
Also, it takes 17 million barrels of oil to produce the amount of plastic used for bottled water in our country, and that doesn’t even factor in the amount of oil needed to transport the bottled water to the consumer, she noted.
Additionally, she said, there are concerns and a lack of understanding regarding the chemicals used in the plastic, like Bisphenol A.
Because her project placed high enough to earn money to be implemented, and because of the impact her project could have, Morales said her time dedicated to the competition was well worth it.
“It means a lot to me,” said Morales, who also works as a part-time custodian at her school to help support herself and also to save money for a trip to Costa Rica this summer, where she’ll learn about the country’s highly regarded sustainability programs.
Greeley Central High School science teacher Liz Mock-Murphy, who’s made the competition part of her curriculum in certain classes, and Ray Tscillard, director of the Poudre Learning Center in Greeley that organizes the competition locally, said they are amazed each year by all of the students’ effort and dedication to the contest.
“This competition is truly empowering … allowing these students to really make a difference,” Mock-Murphy said, noting that some of Greeley’s schools today have low-flow toilets, biodegradable sporks in the cafeterias and single-stream recycling programs as a result of projects executed through the Caring for Our Watersheds competition. “It’s been an amazing thing for our students.”