This is Ellie Kinnaird. One of the joys I had as a legislator was learning about the accomplishments of students in our schools. Last year, I was invited to the demonstration of a project that four bright Phillips Middle School students entered into the Seimens national environmental contest – and won. They had read about the closing of the Orange County landfill and wanted to find out how and what waste could be kept out of the landfill to minimize the amount of land needed. They learned about the large amounts of waste from their own school and decided to see if they could come up with a project that would reduce it.

They first noticed that many students didn’t drink all their milk from their cartons at lunch. So they devised a plan to collect that wasted milk and compost it. They outfitted a barrel with a funnel on top and asked each student to pour their unused milk into the container. They were amazed at how much they collected. They then went school-wide. The students entered their project into the contest and won the national prize.

This year, they are going farther. While some students have gone on to high school, others have taken their place. The convinced the cafeteria to switch from plastic to compostable trays and have set up composting bins for food waste. Next to the compostable bins they set up bins to recycle all bottles, cartons, paper and aluminum foil. They have contracted with Brooks Composting to pick up and carry the compost to their commercial composting site. They also have a sharing table where unopened food that students don’t eat is placed for anyone who wants it and the remainder is sent home for needy students. To encourage and inform all Philips students, they showed a video in science classes about the benefits of composting. And now they are entering another national contest.

The students who won last year’s Siemens “We Can Change the World” competition are Rohan Deshpande, Joshua Zhou and Helen Jiang. This year’s Lexus Competition students are Rohan Deshpande, Vincent Chen, Arden Reynolds, Quinten Siredski, Graeme Zimmerman, and Elizabeth Farmer. They have a website asking everyone in Chapel Hill to answer the survey to find out what people want for solid waste in the future. Fill out the survey here.

We know the world is in good hands with kids like this. Good luck to the team for this year’s Lexus contest.