Recycling Pencils and Water are Projects winning PEYA Awards

Aryan and Om Mulgaokar, now living in Ridgewood, N.J., are among the national winners of the 2017 PEYAs announced in Washington, D.C.. Established in 1971, the awards program recognizes young people for their outstanding efforts to protect the nation’s air, water, land and ecology. Nebraska-based 6th grader Aryan Mulgaokar and his brother, kindergartener Om, have been awarded for their project, “REVIVE Go Green — Reuse and Recycling of Pencils.”

Every year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gives special recognition and a presidential plaque to the President’s Environmental Youth Award regional winners. This year, among the many winners whose outstanding environmental projects have been recognized, there are at least four Indian American students.

The national award is presented each year to K-12 students who demonstrate the initiative, creativity, and problem-solving skills needed to address environmental problems and find sustainable solutions.

After realizing how many of their partially used pencils were left over each year, the Indian American brothers decided to implement a project to promote environmental awareness and a habit of reusing and recycling school supplies, like pencils. The students named their project “REVIVE Go Green” to reflect the completion of the life cycle of a pencil, when composted pencils can be used to grow or revive new trees.

Though the brothers won the PEYA regional award for EPA Region 7, they recently moved to New Jersey, where they plan on expanding the project to their new school district.

“Today, we are pleased to honor these impressive young leaders, who demonstrate the impact that a few individuals can make to protect our environment,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “These students are empowering their peers, educating their communities, and demonstrating the STEM skills needed for this country to thrive in the global economy.”

The brothers are being recognized for their recycling project at Aldrich Elementary in the Millard School District in Omaha. The project focused on recycling used pencils, partnering with the school, classmates, and a local landscaping nursery, Mulhall’s Nursery, to collect discarded and broken pencils and either sharpen them for reuse or recycle them (as shavings) for use in the nursery’s compost.

Aryan stated, “What caught my attention was that two boxes of pencils appeared on the school supply list every year. I realized that so many pencils get thrown out in the trash every year at homes nationwide and trees are cut down for them. I knew I could find a solution to this problem.”

The brothers encouraged their elementary and middle-school classmates to volunteer their time to collect damaged pencils. At the end of the school year, more than 4,000 pencils were returned to the school stockroom for reuse during the next school term, a cost savings of approximately $850. The brothers also started a student group and engaged many throughout the two schools to participate and learn more about how to recycle.

Thirteen-year-old Shreya Ramachandran, of Fremont, Calif., will receive the honor for her study of grey water use in water conservation. Having seen firsthand the effects of drought in California and in India, high-schooler Ramachandran formed “The Grey Water Project” to encourage people to conserve and reuse water. Over three years of research into water conservation, the Indian American student has particularly focused on the possibility of reusing grey water, which is lightly used water, especially from laundry.

Arya Bairat, an Indian American student from Connecticut, is also part of a group of 9th graders who have won the regional award for EPA Region 1 with their project, “Synthesis of Low Cost, Biodegradable Masks/Bags Using Novel Material Combinations: A Sustainability Project.”

The PEYA program promotes awareness of our nation’s natural resources and encourages positive community involvement. It celebrates student leadership in service projects to protect the environment and build a livable, sustainable global community. Fourteen projects are being recognized this year, from 12 states (Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Texas, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, California, and Washington).

Additional projects include a wide variety of activities that range from developing a biodegradable plastic using local agricultural waste product; designing an efficient, environmentally-friendly mosquito trap using solar power and compost by-product; saving approximately 2,000 tadpoles and raising adult frogs and toads; repurposing more than 25,000 books; organizing recycling programs to benefit disaster victims and underserved community members; and promoting bee health.

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