This article is from the Environmental Justice: What Is It and Why Is It Important session during ISRI2021. This session, along with others, are available to attendees on demand.

Winners of the nationwide 2021 Youth Recycling Awareness Award contest are promoting the value of recycling from coast to coast. Fifth-grader Irene Park from Fairburn Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles is the 2021 poster grand prize winner. Sophomores Nadia Islam, Ada Johnsen-DeWeese, and Rosemarie Alubankudi, who attend Life Sciences Secondary School in New York City, are the 2021 video grand prize winners.

For seven years, ISRI, in partnership with JASON Learning, has sponsored an annual video and poster contest featuring recycling-related themes for students in grades K-12. Named for a hero in the Greek myth of the Argonauts, JASON provides curriculum and learning experiences in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for K-12 students, and professional development for teachers. Robert Ballard, famed ocean explorer and JASON’s founder, gave the organization its name when he dreamed of creating an educational program to spark the imaginations of students with real-life science.

“The ISRI contest winners serve as inspirational STEM leaders for JASON Learning and for students across the country,” says Eleanor Smalley, president and CEO of JASON. “They created innovative, well-designed work that perfectly exemplified the contest’s mission: why recycling is essential to our community. The Green Team Video Crew, from New York City, captured our imaginations as they showed why recycling is essential. And Irene Park, from Los Angeles, demonstrated why zero waste makes a better place in her poster. JASON is extremely excited and proud to see these young women interested in exploring STEM and recycling.”

Irene’s poster demonstrates how more classroom recyclables can be processed properly, ensuring the valuable commodities do not end up in landfills. The winning video demonstrates how recycling is essential to local communities from the perspective of a cardboard box that was mistakenly placed in the trash. The video goes on to explain the importance of proper education so that communities recognize valuable recyclables.

“Engaging our youth in understanding the significant role of recycling in our environment, economy, communities, and beyond is of utmost importance,” ISRI President Robin Wiener said. “The annual Youth Recycling Awareness contest does just that, by challenging students to demonstrate their understanding of not just recycling, but its relevancy to our everyday lives. Each year I am impressed by the level of knowledge and creativity of entries from students of every age. Our future is undoubtedly bright in the hands of Irene, Nadia, Ada, Rosemarie, and their peers. ISRI congratulates them on a job well done.”

Recycling is Essential to My Community is this year’s contest theme. In the midst of the COVID‑19 crisis, recycling has fallen off many of our radars. Communities that once banned-single use plastics and bags are offering them again to reduce the handling of personal cloth bags. Dining and takeout are at an all-time high, and carryout containers are on the rise. People are ordering goods and products online like never before in lieu of in-person shopping, increasing the need and use of cardboard boxes and packaging.

Students were tasked with creating a public service announcement in the form of a video or poster that explains to other members of their community or neighborhood why recycling is essential, why they should care, and how they can help. The competition featured students living in the United States and abroad, enrolled in grades K-12 during the 2020-21 school year. ISRI received 99 entries, including two from China. Judges evaluated entries on the interpretation and clarity of the theme to the viewer; the persuasiveness of the message; creativity and originality; the quality of the entry; and the overall impression of the entry.

Submission guidelines for ISRI’s 2022 Youth Recycling Awareness Award will be released in the coming months.


Dan Hockensmith

Dan Hockensmith

I'm a native Ohioan who since 2014 has called Maryland home. My background includes print, broadcast, and digital journalism; government contracting; and marketing communications.