Past Winners of the Lexus Eco Challenge

Congratulations to the Winners of the 2017–2018 Land & Water Challenge! 

MIDDLE SCHOOL

 
Plastic Elastic 3.0, New Jersey
Team:
Sharon, Albania, Gabriella, Camila, Ariana, Karys
Every time we do a load of laundry, plastic microfibers from our clothes can find their way into our drains and water systems. These microfibers are pollutants that can damage aquatic life, working their way up the food chain. Led by teacher advisors Malissa Yabut and Robert O’Donnell, Plastic Elastic 3.0 researched, built, and exhaustively tested a prototype filter to prevent microfibers from traveling to their water system. The students presented their issue to the mayor’s office and to the school community, and plan to patent and implement their filter in Laundromats statewide.

 
WMS Tree Titans, California
Team: 
Cyana, Jessica, Kendra, Janelle, Yuko, Emmanuel, Tannya
WMS Tree Titans recognize the roles that trees play in our lives. They produce oxygen, they provide much-needed shade in the summertime, and more. After having seen a campus-wide loss of trees due to drought and other environmental tensions, the team, led by Dr. Susan Pritchard, introduced a multitiered plan to replant their school’s lost trees and make sure that they’re cared for properly. The students held fundraisers, collaborated with various school district officials, planted 20-plus trees, and more.

 
Styro-Terminators, New Jersey
Team: 
Sajoud, Michaela, Giovanna, Jennifer, Layla, Kalya, Juver, Briana
The Styro-Terminators concerned themselves with the environmental dangers of Styrofoam, an unrecyclable material that ends up in our oceans and on land and takes hundreds of years to decompose. The team, guided by teacher advisors Malissa Yabut and Robert O’Donnell, gathered and shared data after monitoring “superworms”—the larvae of darkling beetles—consuming Styrofoam and turning it into waste. Without harming themselves, the larvae break down Styrofoam and other kinds of polystyrene, thus suggesting a natural solution to a giant global problem. Not for the squeamish, but pretty cool.

 
Green Gals, Colorado
Team:
Devon, Piper, Sadie, Kaitlin, Charleigh, Hailey
The Green Gals team honed in on plastic bag use and its environmental dangers, citing the fact that 91% of all the plastic that Americans use gets thrown away or littered rather than recycled. Led by teacher advisor Heather Haney, the students surveyed their school and greater community to determine the popularity of reusable bags in the area. They heard from more than 350 people and shared their findings on their school’s campus and elsewhere, spreading awareness of the eco-hazards associated with plastic bag use.

 
Team PAN, Florida
Team:
Mariam, Keegan, Devyn, Bhavya, Joshua, Abigail, Aiden, Naima, Samuel, Carson
Guided by teacher advisor Kellie Keene, Team PAN’s project was as symbolic as it was a tangible, physical effort. The team created a school garden, but they did so with the use of discarded items that had been donated to them. After the team devised its plan for a school garden, they solicited donations. More than 2,200 discarded milk jugs, tin cans, water bottles, and other items made their way to Team PAN, and instead of going to a landfill, they’re brightening a school campus with vegetable and flower plants inside of them.

 
Gardeners of the Galaxy, Florida
Team:
Callen, Hadyn, Wesley, Daniel, Alessandro, Jonah
It’s all about hydroponic plants with Gardeners of the Galaxy and teacher advisor Lesa Bland. The team explored the benefits of raising plants with the use of a hydroponics system—above ground in a water-based setting that’s rich in nutrients—as compared to traditional farming. The team reported several benefits: Hydroponic plants grow quickly; they don’t require pesticides, and more. The students conducted research, got the word out about hydroponic gardening, planted a garden at school, and plan to donate their produce to a local homeless shelter.

project reservoir
 
HMS Backyard Backlash, Michigan
Team
: Seojun, Sully, Davin, Logan, Seth, Mercedes, Linda, Sonia, Micaela, Leah
Lake Superior—the largest, coldest, and deepest of the Great Lakes—is under a threat of contamination in places like Michigan due to the area’s large and growing population. HMS Backyard Backlash and teacher advisor Sarah Geborkoff conducted research and met with local scientists to learn about the dangers that synthetic soil and over-fertilization present to freshwater. They carried out soil experiments and planted bluestem grass around their school garden to prevent nitrates from damaging the area beyond its borders. The students shared their findings with their school and local media.

eco warriors
 
The Hydro Heroes, Kentucky
Team: 
Hannah, Riley, Luke, Lola, Jackson, Karsten, Ally
Not all heroes wear capes—switching to reusable water bottles is a small but important step that can reduce one’s contribution to the planet’s plastic pollution problem. The Hydro Heroes and teacher advisor Ashlie Arkwright encouraged their community to reuse water bottles rather than buying disposable ones. They secured donations from a reusable bottle company, sold 45 bottles, raffled off bottles, and circulated a pledge about using reusable bottles that earned more than 100 signatures. After the bottle sales and raffle, the team donated all proceeds to victims of recent hurricanes.

HIGH SCHOOL

project reservoir
 
The Almighty Algae, New York
Team
: Rishika, Sarah, Riya, Sanjana, Rachelle, Christy
Harmful algal blooms (HABs), which upset marine ecosystems and can be toxic to humans, have been naturally occurring in bays and ponds on Long Island, New York, for years. The Almighty Algae, guided by teacher advisors Serena McCalla and Michael Giallorenzo, chose to call attention to HABs with an informational campaign about their impact on local shellfisheries and more. The team partnered with local biologists, conducted field research, and set up an “Algae Day” in their community to spread the word, but also focused on the algae’s positive uses, such as their role in fertilizer manufacturing. The students collected algae and made their own fertilizer—they sold 50 bags of it and donated the proceeds to a local university for algae research.  

eco warriors
 
G.R.A.Y. (Greywater Recycling Action Youth), Missouri
Team: 
Saayli, Sydney, Joseph, Varun, Vanessa
Greywater conservation—which is the conservation of “gently used water” from washing machines, bathroom sinks, and more—was at the center of G.R.A.Y.’s plan. Teacher advisor William Bowman and his team hoped to raise awareness of the concept and decided to design a greywater conservation device. The students collected data with a water usage survey, partnered with local experts, and experimented heavily to determine which material would best fit their device, an apparatus to recycle shower water for use in toilets. A working model for use in homes is on its way—the students are finalizing their plans and are meeting with architects to address water regulations and more.

can you hear me
 
The Palm Frees, Missouri
Team:
Jane, Mia, Brigid, Leena, Allison, Emma, Annie
Palm oil can be found in a wealth of household products—everything from deodorant to ice cream. But producing this oil has an environmental impact, particularly on the rainforests being cut down for it and the wildlife that depend on those rainforests. It became the topic of focus for The Palm Frees. Led by teacher advisors Katie Wilson and Dawn Johnson, the Palm Frees thought: What can we make without palm oil and sell at school to draw attention to the eco-hazards associated with it? The students made and sold their own palm oil–free nail polish, deodorant, and lip balm and donated proceeds to a local wildlife foundation.

eckh20
 
Orbis, New York
Team:
Gabriella, Zachary, Marc, Katherine, Rohan, Wen, Arianna, Audrey
Nearly 80 of the sinks at team Orbis’s school showed lead levels at the legal threshold when they were tested by the state, a discovery that felt important enough for the students to build an Action Plan around. Teacher advisor Serena McCalla and her students contacted government officials about New York’s water contamination and petitioned the governor to develop and enforce legislation to mandate monitoring every school’s drinking water. They produced videos and a website to spread awareness of the issue, and after extensive research and experimentation, developed a water purifier that uses almond shells to naturally remove lead from water.

pesticide
 
WashPod, Oregon
Team:
Solomon, Tyler, Andrei, Culla, Katie, Layton
For their Action Plan, teacher advisor Dale Yocum and WashPod focused on improving living conditions for the homeless community while reducing water waste. They found that a lot of water used in their area is wasted, even though greywater (“used” water from showers and sinks) could be filtered and reused. The team purchased a trailer and partnered with a vocational school as well as members of the homeless community to retrofit it for the students’ installation of a shower and laundry facility. Their energy-efficient “WashPod” prototype will recycle greywater and use solar power.

 
Navajo Prep Flying Eagles, New Mexico
Team:
Sky, Jiles, Miauaxochitl, Lila, Keona, Xander, Kaylin
When the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally unleashed approximately 3 million gallons of mining waste into several bodies of water in Colorado in 2015, it contaminated important water sources for the Navajo Prep Flying Eagles’ community (and elsewhere). Led by teacher advisor Yolanda Flores, the team collected water and riverbed samples for careful chemical analysis to determine the exact level of toxicity that their community has encountered since the spill. The students have presented their findings—which indicate a high level of chemical elements and compounds in the Animas River—to their school and greater community.

 
3D Pneumatic Aerator Creators, Texas
Team:
Hunter, Kimmy, Austin, Isabell, Olivia, Ginger
When algae in a body of water increases in size and population at a rapid pace, it’s called a “bloom,” and algal blooms can consume large amounts of oxygen in an ecosystem and produce toxins that can be harmful to humans and the environment. Teacher advisor David McLoda and his students worked to prevent algal blooms from forming and keep their nearby bodies of water oxygenated with a cost-efficient aeration system. After conducting research and setting up a school recycling initiative, they built a prototype aerator with recycled plastics, 3D modeling software, and a 3D printer. They partnered with environmental agencies, and a local university endorsed their aerator design. The aerator is a success, and has been implemented at a nearby lake.

 
Kayak Club, Texas
Team:
Kathryn, Eric, Navya, Michael, Jackson
How can you truly solve a problem without seeing it up close? Kayak Club and teacher advisor Rebekah Cate boarded kayaks and canoes and explored local lakes to observe what kind of environmental issues were affecting them. The students conducted interviews with residents and shared their findings with their community about a significantly deteriorating local dam, pollution from runoff in one of the lakes, and the looming threat that natural gas drilling has on their region. Then Kayak Club went global—they raised funds to purchase and ship enough filters to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to yield more than 5 million gallons of clean water.

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