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  • Writer's pictureJenna Granger

Another Win for SWEP Sustainability Clubs - EcoChallenge Winners 2024!

SWEP’s sustainability clubs have done it again! Through hard work and dedication to the planet, SWEP’s Green Teams, EcoAction Clubs and Envirolution Clubs have won the Shane McConkey EcoChallenge (actually our clubs tied each other) 1st place in the Blue Square category! 

The Shane McConkey EcoChallenge is a challenge set to empower youth to learn about environmental issues, educate others, figure out how to solve problems and to take action to reduce our impact on the environment. Each year awards are given to a variety of projects submitted by students around the country. We are honored to once again be among the winners of this powerful challenge.

Below are the two projects we submitted on behalf of our sustainability clubs.

Green Teams & EcoAction Clubs: School-Wide Zero Waste Initiative

Our Green Teams and EcoAction clubs of Kings Beach Elementary, Tahoe Lake Elementary, North Tahoe Middle School, Truckee Elementary, Glenshire Elementary and Sierra Expeditionary Learning School chose to address the problem of waste created at school during meals. The students learned about the over-use of single-use plastic and the excessive amount of food waste that is created at schools. They worked within their own respective schools to implement three major strategies for reducing waste during meals in the North Lake Tahoe/Truckee area.

  • Shareware: Students began by implementing a culture of reuse through shareware. Our shareware sets are comprised of reusable plates, bowls, cups, forks, knives, and spoons made out of recycled and reusable plastic. These shareware sets allow teachers and administrators to use these reusable foodware items for their teacher meetings, holiday and birthday celebrations, PTO meetings and any other large events. Alder Creek Middle School, North Tahoe High and Middle School, Kings Beach Elementary, Tahoe Lake Elementary, Donner Trail Elementary, Truckee Elementary, Sierra Expeditionary Learning School and Glenshire Elementary are all now using these shareware sets for their events. This implementation is drastically reducing the amount of single-use foodware items in our local schools.

  • Bento Boxes: The second project was to support zero waste lunches in our schools by giving out bento boxes to all second grade students at Tahoe Lake Elementary, Kings Beach Elementary, Glenshire Elementary, Truckee Elementary, Donner Trail and Sierra Expeditionary Learning School. Club members prepared and practiced a presentation for the second graders about why it is important to reduce our lunch waste, where to put the waste we do create (Smart Sorting Bin, food waste bucket, recycling, etc. ) and how to pack a zero waste lunch using the bento box. The second grade students were very excited to receive their bento boxes and have been using them throughout the school year.

  • Sharecarts: The third strategy our clubs implemented was a food sharecart in the cafeteria for students to share food items that they do not want and would otherwise end up in the landfill. Items that are placed on the food sharecart are kept at food safety temperatures so that students, teachers, admin, or staff members that are still hungry can safely and easily access leftover foods. These food sharecarts have three layers: one layer for fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, bananas, carrots; one layer for packaged food like chips, bars or burritos; and one layer for cold food that needs to be kept on ice like milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. (this layer has ice packs within it). This solution not only reduces the amount of food going into the landfill, but it also supports students that might need more food. 

All of these projects raised awareness and offered ideas and solutions to the waste that is created at school sites. Club members were able to educate their school community through the weekly announcements, posters placed around the school, postcards put in teachers boxes, videos shown in every classroom, and by word-of-mouth through the Green Team and EcoAction students assisting at lunchtimes. More people are aware of the possibilities of how to reduce waste daily, whether it is how to pack a zero waste lunch, what to do if you have food that you don’t want or how to throw an event without using single use food ware items.

North Tahoe High School Envirolution Club: Clothes Swap for the Planet

The NTHS environmental team chose to address clothing waste and reduce the demand for fast fashion. They believed that clothing waste is unnecessary and that by addressing the problem and providing solutions actual change can happen that will result in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This NTHS club aspired to create a movement among their peers and in the community to not throw away clothes that can be reused and repurposed. Their motto: landfills should not be laundry piles!

Clothing waste facts that inspired this action:

  • The fashion industry produces 100 billion garments a year and 87% ended up in the landfill.

  • The average garment is worn only 10 times before it is thrown away.

  • It takes 700 gallons of water to make a cotton shirt.

  • The average American throws out about 82 pounds of clothing per year.

  • Clothes can take up to 40 years to decompose.

The students started by building background knowledge of the problems of fast fashion and the fashion and apparel industry. Learning about the immense waste associated with the fashion industry and impacts on the environment, the students were inspired to take action and create solutions. One solution was to build a school culture of thrifting rather than buying new. To achieve this, the club hosted a clothing exchange called “SWAP for the Planet” and also created outreach messages to educate the school community about the climate impacts of our clothing choices and solutions to reduce the impacts of climate change. Additionally, guest speakers from the apparel industry joined our club meeting to share information about sustainable trends happening in the industry. 

Before the event, students organized: 

  • a donation collection plan

  • marketing and outreach plan

  • rules surrounding acceptable donations

  • a donation management plan (where and how to sort and organize donations)

  • event plan and a volunteer plan  

The club was excited to see teachers, administrators and peers support and participate in the SWAP for the Planet event. On the day of the event students and teachers enjoyed the festive, thrift environment that was created in the school library and many students walked away with new-to-them clothes and a better understanding for why clothing exchanges and thrift stores are a important way to help the planet, keep clothing out of landfills and generally how reusing and repurposing clothing can be fun. In total, more that 300 donation items were received and 220 items exchanged. All remaining items were donated to Savers for further thrifting. Over 100 students attended the swap. Hopefully as this event becomes a North Tahoe tradition, popularity and participation will only grow. 

Between the Zero Waste Initiative and the Swap for the Planet, major amounts of waste was reduced. We are proud of this year’s accomplishments by our sustainability clubs, and grateful that all this dedication and hard work was acknowledged by the Shane McConkey Foundation.


We thank The Patchwork Collective, Truckee Tahoe Airport District, Town of Truckee,

Truckee Donner Public Utility District, Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, Clif Family Foundation, and Northstar California Resort in partnership with Vail Resort's EpicPromise

for supporting SWEP Sustainability Club programming.

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