By Joe Richardson, Southern Frederick Rotary Club
On August 3, 2023, Advika Agarwal and Angelina Xu, Co-Presidents of the Richard Montgomery High School Interact Club, and fellow student Shrusti Amula received the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Presidential Environmental Youth Award, representing EPA Region 3.
These amazing young women were 3 of only 34 students throughout the United States to receive this prestigious award. They were honored for spearheading school-based programs to divert lunchroom waste from landfills and incinerators, and for mobilizing students to convince the Maryland Legislature to pass a new state law and $250,000 in funding to expand the program statewide.
Visit ESRAG’s Lunch out of Landfills website and scroll down for the amazing story of their advocacy, including their presentation to Maryland’s Secretary of Environment Serena McIlwain on the equipment and stipends the state funding is needed to provide.
Lunch out of Landfills reduces greenhouse gas emissions and promotes food security by diverting food waste from landfills to composting, and sending safe, uneaten food to neighbors in need. This program can save schools substantial sums on waste disposal.
As 7th graders at Roberto Clemente Middle School in 2018, Advika, Angelina and Shrusti raised money and started a compost program at nearby Clarksburg Elementary School. Working with me as Lunch out of Landfills coach, they ensured that the compost program operated successfully until schools were forced by the pandemic to shut down. They started up the program again in 2021. In 2021, Advika and Angelina co-founded the Coalition to Re-Imagine School Waste with Ms. Erica Weiss as an advisor. They oversaw the successful implementation of the $48,000 grant they received from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that has served eleven Montgomery County schools. The students tenaciously engaged school administrators and worked with building services staff. They are now expanding the Coalition to students in Utah, Texas, New Hampshire, California, and Idaho.
The three students have inspired thousands of middle school and elementary students and have gone on to coordinate compost and waste diversion programs in over 38 schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.
In early 2022, these young leaders took on advocacy. Working with me and the Coalition to Reimagine School Waste, they launched a campaign that collected 6,000 postcards signed by students in support of Senate Bill 124 (SB124), to provide $250,000 to launch compost pilots throughout the state. The bill passed 44-0 in the State Senate and 127-4 in the House in March of 2022. The Governor signed it into law on Earth Day, 2022, but the Legislature had not allocated any money.
The students returned to the Maryland capital in January of 2023. They delivered 12,000 more postcards from students representing 77 schools, and addressed three budget committees, Governor Wes Moore’s Legislative Assistant Saif Ratul, and Serena McIllwain, Secretary of Department of the Environment, demanding funding for school composting programs.
On April 17th Secretary McIllwain visited Rock Creek Forest Elementary School in the Montgomery County School District to announce the funding would be awarded in the fall of 2023. All three students are working with determination and devotion to ensure the successful implementation of the programs.
Through ESRAG, the Lunch out of Landfill programs are now being promoted throughout the world.
Shrusti Amula launched the Rise N Shine Initiative to conduct food recovery with restaurants, grocery stores, and local elementary schools, recovering about 500 pounds of food a week. She has single-handedly funded and managed programs in 12 schools.
Angelina and Advika founded Compostology, a youth-led food waste solutions initiative serving urban Montgomery County and rural Frederick County. They have worked with additional schools along with the WWF funded programs and spearheaded the Coalition’s advocacy efforts.
Working with these committed and skilled young leaders gives all of us hope for the future, and I want to congratulate them on the impact they have already had on their state and nation.
Joe Richardson, founder of Lunch out of Landfills, is a member of Southern Frederick Rotary Club in Maryland, USA.