Zero Waste Humboldt Goes to High School

April, 2017

Zero Waste Humboldt logo

This school year, five local high school students got involved with Zero Waste Humboldt (ZWH). Supported by a Humboldt Area Foundation Grassroots Grant, Zero Waste Humboldt conducted a pilot Zero Waste Youth Leadership program with students from McKinleyville High School, Arcata High School, and Northcoast Preparatory Academy (NPA). Students met with ZWH Board Member Alec Howard and myself to learn about waste problems and solutions.

Students conducted waste analyses at their schools and collected data by surveying and interviewing their peers to pinpoint a focus for their projects. This data has been transformed into information for faculty and school administrations that will prove useful in implementing solutions.  Here’s a brief description of the high school Zero Waste leaders and their projects.

Sophie Roberts, Arcata High School

Sophie conducted a one-time waste analysis earlier this year. She sifted through the contents of a garbage can to record the quantity and type of discarded materials and determined if these materials could be composted or recycled. Sophie reported that a significant amount of generated waste came from restroom paper towels. Though paper towels are compostable, Arcata High School does not have a method or facility for handling compost. Sophie decided to go above and beyond by encouraging the administration to install restroom hand dryers.

Abby Miller & Mya Alves, McKinleyville High School 

Abby and Mya conducted a school-wide survey of students, staff, and administration about water bottle usage, recycling rates, and locations for a hydration station. Their project’s goal is to reduce McKinleyville High’s plastic waste and to educate their peers and administration about the negative effects of plastic pollution. Abby and Mya are performing a cost analysis to choose a hydration station for their campus and calculate how much single-use water bottles cost the school. This data can determine the rate of return on the purchase and installation of a hydration station.

Jasmine Ortega, McKinleyville High School

Jasmine completed an analysis of the cafeteria’s lunch hour waste and wrote a report determining that roughly half of the waste in the landfill bin was compostable. The project’s goals include reducing organic waste and encouraging the purchase of reusable dishware and utensils. Jasmine plans to work with the woodshop class to build a compost bin or a vermicompost bin to fertilize their school garden.

Cheyenne Bailey, Northcoast Preparatory Academy (NPA)

Cheyenne conducted two different waste content analyses, the first involving her and one other student and the second including nearly all the students at NPA. Through an educational presentation, Cheyenne explained what was compostable, recyclable, and what ends up in landfills. Afterward, students anonymously wrote down suggestions, revealing three areas of interest: labels for recycling and compost bins, an improved composting system and education about it, and a paper towel alternative. Cheyenne will be graduating high school in the spring and is working with younger students interested in continuing her project.

Zero Waste Humboldt is certain that these students will use what they’ve learned from their projects in future workplaces and communities. To learn more about the local high school Zero Waste leaders, email



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