GORHAM, Maine — Nearly 700 students, faculty and officials gathered at an all-school Earth Day assembly and burst into applause upon hearing the news that Gorham Middle School had placed first in the state in the second annual Zero Waste Challenge.
The competition’s founding sponsors, Poland Spring and Chewonki, were joined by new sponsors ecomaine and Pine Tree Waste, to announce the state’s top four winners and award a total of $4,000 to Gorham Middle School ($2,000 for first place), Westbrook Middle School ($1,000 for second place) and Molly Ockett School (Fryeburg) ($500 for third place). Massabesic Middle School, which placed third in last year’s Middle School Challenge, also was awarded $500 this year for its continuing commitment to Zero Waste plan implementation.
Schools may use the prize money to implement their innovative waste reduction plans or to schedule an environmental education experience at Chewonki’s campus in Wiscassett. Abigail Van Luling, one of the Gorham Middle School students who helped create the first-place waste reduction plan, accepted the $2,000 check on behalf of her school.
According to a press release, she said, “The Zero Waste Challenge was a really fun experience. Going through all the challenge steps, interviewing facilities people, tracking down data, analyzing the data using math, and going through trash made the experience so cool for us.”
The competition asked students in grades six-eight across the state to create a plan to help their schools save money and resources by evaluating and then reducing their waste streams. In February, submissions were judged by an independent panel of waste management, education, and sustainability experts that included representatives from Ferry Beach Ecology School, Bowdoin College, Pine Tree Waste and ecomaine.
Chewonki President Willard Morgan believes the success of the two-year-old competition will be a catalyst for rethinking waste and reuse throughout Maine schools and communities. “Zero waste has environmental, financial and social benefits, and this project provides a path for schools to reduce solid waste, save money and engage in meaningful education,” said Morgan in a press release. “For the second year in a row, student’s waste reduction plans went above and beyond our expectations, and proved that young people are engaged and invested in making the world more sustainable.”
Last year, representatives from ecomaine and Pine Tree Waste participated in the Zero Waste program as judges. They were so impressed with student plans that they agreed to join Poland Spring Water Co. this year as lead corporate sponsors of the Challenge, contributing all prize money for winning project implementation.
Karen McNaughton, Pine Tree Waste’s Municipal Sales Representative said, “We love this project because it engages teachers and students and opens their eyes to ways to reduce solid waste, conserve resources, and save money. Leo Maheu, Environmental Educator at ecomaine added “The Zero Waste Challenge is a win-win- it shows kids that doing good for the environment can actually help save money in schools, businesses and at home.”