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Youth climate activists are at it again! Gov. Inslee recognizes Hockinson School District for their sustainability efforts

Gov-Inslee-with-students-in-HHE-Garden Students show Gov. Inslee the beautiful school garden at Hockinson Heights ES.

Clark County green teams are stirring interest and conversation around climate action. On Sept. 6, 2023, Hockinson School District welcomed Gov. Jay Inslee to showcase their actions toward sustainability, as part of his search for innovative climate action implemented by schools. Inslee told ESD 112  he plans to share what he learns with the rest of the nation, in light of the coming $50 million from the Climate Commitment Act. Hockinson Middle School has a group of particularly active environmental stewards. However, our story starts at the neighboring elementary school. In 2017, Hockinson Heights Elementary School, in partnership with Clark County Green Schools, implemented a composting program. During the students' lunch hour, they began using custom made sort tables. These sort tables have locations for food that is still edible, food waste for composting, cans, bottles, and cartons for recycling, and waste items designated for the landfill. The sort tables are supervised by the green team - student leaders who teach their peers how to properly sort items to avoid contamination.

In 2022, when these elementary students transitioned to Hockinson Middle School, they were surprised to see there were no sort tables or composting. These passionate young leaders approached their teachers and were able to implement what they learned at their elementary school in their new middle school. Astonishingly, within the first week of this new cafeteria waste sort system, they went from four bags of trash daily to two. Hockinson Middle School has only half the student population of the elementary school but produced double the waste, prior to the sort tables. A waste audit performed in May 2023, shows they now compost 30 pounds of food and 40 pounds of recyclables daily! The entire Hockinson School District composts 20,000 lbs. or 10 tons of food waste per year in this new system. Hockinson Heights Elementary School received the 2022 Green Team of the Year Award for their dedication to waste reduction, sustainable gardening, and environmental stewardship.

It's no wonder why Gov. Inslee was taken with these young climate activists! Upon his arrival, they proudly presented him with a bouquet of sunflowers, lavender, tomatoes, and a jar of blueberries all grown from their school garden. The students led Gov. Inslee through the facilities, cafeteria with sorting tables, and new gardens as he intently listened to the perspective of students. Being very intentional with his time, Gov. Inslee asked for student perspectives on issues around green energy, food waste reduction, and sustainable living.

Washington state generates over 1 million tons of food waste per year according to the Department of Ecology's Use Food Well Washington Plan. Food waste in landfills is proven to be a significant source of methane due to the anaerobic process of decomposition. Methane is less abundant in our atmosphere currently but over 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. When food is diverted to a composting process, oxygen and water are added to the system making it into an aerobic process of decomposition, significantly reducing methane production. Reducing our food waste puts us in the command position on two powerful initiatives enacted by The Department of Ecology –The Climate Commitment Act and the Use Food Well Washington Plan.

These initiatives to reduce emissions and food waste are in unison to help Washington keep its commitment to reduce 95% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Not a moment too soon either, on Sept. 13 a new study from Science Advances calculates that six of nine categories of earth health are in critical condition with two headed in a downward trajectory. The only category doing well? Ozone. This study, layered with a warning call, is also a significant source of hope. When we enact policies, while all consciously working together for a cause, we can live in sustainable ways to keep the earth's cycles functioning at sustainable levels for human and environmental health.

The students in Hockinson School District are walking in stride paving the way for a hopeful vision of what our future can look like. Can you imagine if every school in the nation made these changes? Today's youth have more power than ever in initiating change for the future. "The center of the solar system for fighting climate change is not Paris, it's not Tokyo, it's right here in Hockinson," Inslee told ESD 112. With the passionate action of young leaders and the Clark County Green Schools tools for change and powerful policy, Clark County's schools are moving forward into a new era where we live sustainably in healthy, compassionate communities for each other and our natural world.
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