Whiteboard markers: From investigation to change (Slovakia)

YRE Competition 2018
15-18 years


At the beginning of the 21st century, disposable markers began to be used in Slovakia. They are now slowly pushing white chalk out of the way. Black boards are being replaced by white magnetic boards.


At the Business Academy in Trnava, more than 100 markers are used up every year, and they are not even used in all classes. Each marker contains an average of 20 grams of plastic, which means about 2 kg of plastic per year ends up in the basket. At first glance it may seem that it is not so much. In the Trnava region, however, we have 149 secondary schools. If every school used markers only to a certain degree, like the Business Academy in Trnava, at least 298 kilograms of plastic would end up in the trash. "Markers are a wonderful thing because they have solved the problem of chalk dust. The problem is that disposable markers are not environmentally friendly, " says Dana Bohunická, a Business Academy teacher.

"I am surprised that, in this age of recycling, markers still remain a problem."


According to my questionnaire, which was filled out by 35 students, most of them use exclusively markers at school. Nearly three quarters of them know only about the disposables. Still, 90% of students think that markers should be recycled because they are an environmental problem. Almost half of the respondents (48%) believe that they can be recycled.

It's not easy to dispose of a marker. It is made up of several materials and most of the components are plastic. The liquid portion is a mixture of dyes and solvent. The tip of the marker is made of pressed fabric. The solvent for markers is mostly a substance made of kerosene, and is toxic.

Toxicity of markers poses a risk not only to the environment but also to human health (inhalation or ingestion is dangerous). "The plugs of the markers are fused to the sheath of the marker in accordance with EU safety regulations and therefore they cannot be refilled without damaging the casing," says the representative of the most famous Slovak manufacturer of disposable markers, Centropen.

"Plastic reprocessing for us is not possible because the plastic is dirty (the printing, residue of the contents inside the casing)." Thus, disposable markers cannot be dismantled or recycled.”


An enormous amount of waste is created that has no further use. The solution may be refillable markers which are reusable. Some companies also sell them with a bottle of ink, so you can refill them, or replace the marker tips with new ones. We can therefore use marker sheaths several times.

However, one barrier is the small selection in stores, so the customer has little choice. In one Trnava stationary store they are sold exclusively in full packs, which can discourage customers, who would then rather buy one disposable marker.

Another obstacle may be the price of the refillable marker. From my analysis of online stores, I came to a sad conclusion. Economics wins over ecology. Disposable marker prices range from € 0.65 to € 1.50 on average. However, the price of refillable markers can climb significantly, one costs approximately € 1.50 to € 4.60. Even though people would like to use refillable markers, the cost of these products discourages them. Probably for this reason Slovak schools use only disposable markers. "The tips in the refillable markers don’t last as long and we would pay much more for them," says Jaromír Flaškár, a teacher at Púchov primary school.

Although many people want to protect the environment, their choice is driven mainly by the price tag. "We produced refillable markers in the years 1999-2006. But due to lack of interest, we have terminated production," says Centropen.


Currently, when environmental awareness is being sold by companies, that manufacturer could consider returning to the production of refillable markers. Although companies now use environmental friendliness as a marketing lure, the manufacturers of markers have not used this strategy. An example is a US marker company that has introduced a recycling program for its customers. The customers who buy products from this company can send them back for recycling. This initiative helps pupils in schools to be responsible for protecting the environment (Source: Old plastic is being recovered by a company as fuel).


In the creation of this article, a wide-ranging discussion on this issue opened up at the Trnava Business Academy. This means that neither Slovak teachers nor pupils are indifferent to this problem, just like their American counterparts. The management of Trnava´s Business Academy has decided to test refillable markers for the first time, as a long-term solution to the problem of minimizing this waste.

This experience confirms that even a small initiative can bring about a big change; from a survey at a school, through disseminating the results, to final negotiations with the headmaster. Trnava´s Business Academy is an inspiring example of the fruitful communication between students and teachers resulting in an eco-friendly solution. If the test is successful, disposable whiteboard markers will be replaced by refillable ones for good.


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Written by student from Slovakia.

Atrazine in drinking water: Slovakia's biggest treasure at risk (Slovakia)

YRE Competition 2018
11-14 years


In mid-December 2017, 5,000 inhabitants of the Protected Water Zone of Žitný Ostrov remained without drinking water. The Regional Public Health Authority (RÚVZ) in Dunajská Streda found several times the exceeded limit of atrazine in the water from water mains. Atrazine is a pesticide that was used to kill weeds in the past.


Six communities were affected: Trstená na Ostrov, Baka, Jurová, Holice, Lúč na Ostrove, and Blatná na Ostrove. Their inhabitants were forbidden by authorities to use the water for drinking and cooking.

"We informed the public of the situation through announcements on the public announcement system and the village website. The phones were constantly ringing; people were curious and quite shocked," said Andrea Szemová, employee of the Holice Administration.

Thirty percent of the population is connected to the public water supply. "These families were supplied with drinking water from tanks, and during Christmas with water in barrels. Households with their own wells bought bottled water," says Mayor Imrich Vajas.


In the first months of 2018, the Western Slovak Water Company (ZSVS), which supplies potable water in the region, installed carbon filters to the public water main. They captured the atrazine. However, households using water from their wells remained unresolved. The news of water contamination surprised well owners. "We started using a carbon filter at home, but even so we buy water for drinking and cooking. Like us, those who are dependent on water from our wells are the majority in the neighborhood. It is unpleasant, even if the accidental pollution analyses of the wells have not been confirmed," said the resident of Holice municipality, Ján (58).


After the authorities banned water from the water supply in six communities, the Ministry of the Environment announced inspections of agricultural cooperatives near the water source. They are concentrating on compliance with the law on the use and storage of pollutants.

"The Slovak Environmental Inspection Agency has started investigations in 13 agricultural cooperatives," said Beata Matul from the agency. "Inspections are ongoing, so we cannot comment on this issue."

Young environmental reporters have been investigating whether the source of pollution is an environmental burden from the past. Veronika Katon of the Legal Department of the Ministry of the Environment wrote: "The Ministry is considering misuse of pesticides by farmers in the recent past or the illegal disposal of atrazine stocks after the ban."


Pollution in Žitný Ostrov by atrazine has spread to another water source in the village of Veľká Paka. As a member of the National Council Anna Zemanová told young reporters, the amount of atrazine in the water source of Veľka Paka is on the verge of the allowable limit. In this village, there is a ban on drinking water from the water supply for pregnant women and infants.

"The pesticide must not be used. As it’s no longer accumulating, nature can cope with it. After a certain period of time it disintegrates and its presence in the groundwater is quickly diluted," said Tomáš Ferenčák, spokesman for the Ministry of the Environment.

However, environmentalist and conservationist Mikuláš Huba thinks the ministry is underestimating the problem of pollution of drinking water in Žitný Ostrov. "The quality of water is gradually deteriorating in this area. It is necessary for the ministry to continue to monitor and insist on change in the management of this most valuable protected water management area in Slovakia."


The Committee of the Slovak National Council for Agriculture and the Environment met in March. Members of Parliament dealt with atrazine in drinking water. Representative Anna Zemanová invited the team of Young Reporters for the Environment from Elementary School in Majcichov to present their investigation on the ground of the National Parliament.



People with their own wells are now dependent on buying bottled water. It is safe from the health point of view but it is a burden on the environment.

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Based on the initiative of the young reporters, Mrs. Anna Zemanová, representative of the Slovak Parliament, promised to submit a new bill to better protect the biggest Slovakia´s water treasure.

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Written by students from Slovakia.

Litter - Old issue, New chapter (Portugal)

YRE Competition 2017
Litter Less Campaign
19-21 years

How informed are you about the impact of your garbage? Does it remain only on land? Does it travel the seas to the other side of the globe? In order to find out how well informed people are, in March we held a series of interviews about marine pollution.

Ever since the last century we have struggled with the amount of garbage we produce, but only in the last decade have we really cared about the impact we have on the environment, with the growing accumulation of waste that has reached alarming proportions! One of the most focal points has been pollution of the marine environment and it is in this perspective that several people were interviewed in order to ascertain how informed they are about the influence that man has on the environment. Among them, Maria da Conceição Lopes, an activist from Quercus, who provided a more in-depth look at the seriousness of this problem, stands out.

The questions posed ranged from the basic concept of "marine litter" to the behaviours common citizens may or may not have, such as throwing trash to the ground. The interviewees were chosen to reflect the various sectors of our society, from workers to students and, within these, to young people with an interest in the environment, such as scouts.

After analysing the obtained answers, the amount of insight that each of the interviewees presented seemed more or less the same. However, when confronting other respondents' responses with those of the Quercus activist, we realized that most are unaware of the impacts they cause on a global scale, focusing heavily on local issues.

"People are very poorly informed about the consequences of their daily acts and activities", says the activist, explaining how the irresponsible consumption and disinterest of a large part of the population help increase the rampant accumulation of garbage. This lack of information can be seen because when asked what the impact of marine litter is on the environment and society all interviewees responded with the more "common" problems, such as the death of animals and the accumulation of litter on the beaches, but only a few addressed the fact that Man could be directly affected. "It impacts us directly because this waste enters the food chain", explains the activist.

Another discrepancy in the level of awareness of our interviewees was found when asked about solid and liquid materials that can contaminate the marine environment. "It's a world!", says Maria da Conceição Lopes. Other respondents always refer to plastic, coming from packaging, as the main contaminant. However, in this list we find other materials such as fishing rods, fishing nets, latex, insulating material, glass, etc ... From straws to domestic appliances, several are the items found in coastal areas or drifting in the sea, agglomerating in the so-called plastic islands. But this is a small section of the list, where the visible contaminants are pointed out, because "pollution that is not seen is the most problematic" the activist explains.

One example of this type of pollution is microplastics - plastic in its most fragmented state. It is an issue that has been aggravated over the years. Aiming for a more "environmentally friendly" approach, companies began to mass produce these plastics thought to be biodegradable, when in fact they were oxi-degradable, that is, degraded by the continuous exposure to air. With the false mass biodegradation of these plastics, the amount of microplastics increased exponentially. Thus, even if the rivers and seas are cleared of all visible pollution, they remain contaminated on a microscopic scale.

When asked about human actions which harm the environment, there is consensus on the lack of interest, that is, the lack of an "environmental conscience", as Miguel Ines, one of the interviewees, answered. But again, the answers are very much about the local situation. "This is not a local problem!" The activist recalls, explaining that the problem lies not only in large cities. In fact, it is in developing countries that we find a good part of this problem, because information in these places is not half of what we receive daily in developed countries. And the problem worsens when we explore this issue, "in addition to not being sensitized, they do not have the means to start doing so", says Maria da Conceição Lopes.

So how do we solve a problem this big?

This is the question that hangs over our heads when we realize the monster that the pollution of the marine environment has become. However, the solutions may be simpler than you think! "It is urgent to create legislation and fines", says the activist, explaining "people do better if they are penalized than if they are sensitized." In addition to these policy issues, there are a number of actions we can all take to help reduce waste. "Give a proper destination to your waste"suggests Maria da Conceição Lopes, and this is a suggestion which is also present in all the respondents' answers. Another proposition, coming from a group of scouts, is choosing to buy products with less packaging.

One more measure, suggested by Maria da Conceição, is to make more awareness campaigns and calling out to more participant. As a last suggestion, this time aimed at youngsters, is the promotion of environmental programs, such as the well-known “Maré Viva” that should be open to a greater number of interested parties.

As you can see, the “Litter problem” people are talking about nowadays, is no longer “candy wrap left on the sidewalk”, it has evolved in an uncontrolled way and spread all over the globe, invading the oceans and, therefore, bringing higher health risks to all of us. However, although it is a problem of monstrous proportions, a small act (such as putting candy wrap in the appropriate container or not leaving litter on the beach) can be a major contribution to the beginning of its eradication.

Cigarette beads collected during the Maré Viva program exposed at the Centro de Interpretação Ambiental da Pedra do Sal.

Cigarette beads collected during the Maré Viva program exposed at the Centro de Interpretação Ambiental da Pedra do Sal.

Written by students from Portugal.

The advertising brochure – a monster swallowing yearly a whole forest (Romania)

YRE Competition 2017
Litter Less Campaign
15-18 years

The advertising field extends the most convincing invitation of a company to a potential client. A hypermarket from Romania is using annualy for advertising materials the wood which equals with a forest providing the necessary oxygen for a population as large as the one of Bacau town. Unfortunately, the need for obtaining profit has transformed in a monster which swallows the forest!


Most hypermarkets are using advertising brochures for selling their products, but some really exaggerate when having sales. Despite their being made of recyclable paper, such brochures a a big waste.

Between 14-20 December 2016, I have investigated the advertising materials of a hypermarket from Bacau, which issues a weekly 24-page brochure, in big size (35/52 cm). There are offers for 163 products, the number of products per page varying between none (page 20, 21, 22, 23) and 13 (page 7, 15, 18). I consider that is an unjustified waste of paper on pages where half of the content is useless -”Live the Christmas Fresh” followed by an image of a specific Christmas product, without price and the next half there are promoted between 1 and 9 products. This is also in 1st, 2nd, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 and 24th page, so a total of 10 pages. This way, the mentioned 10 halves pages unnecessarily wasted pages sum 5 pages which could be economised.

If the total of 163 products were promoted properly, 10 or 11 per page, the brochure would be reduced to 16 pages, which means a cut of 33.3(3)%. The current paper which has 24 pages, weighs 100g and the new one would have 66.6(6) grams.

Fig. 1. - 100 grams of a tree life

Fig. 1. - 100 grams of a tree life

According to some statistics realised in June 2015, even by the target company, every single Monday there are distributed in Romanian houses over than 4.3 millions of brochures. If they were more economically formatted, instead of 430 tons of paper, there would be used 286.638 tons, which means an economy of 143,362t, or 717-1003 trees which will be not be weekly cut (5-7 trees for a ton of paper). And this only in Romania, where there are over than 100 markets, when Europe has over than 1000 markets. I do not have updated information at the European level, but I consider that what is happening at the local level is outrageous.

For a total of 52 weeks of release of such promotional materials, 22 360 tons of paper are consumed. Even if it were the most widely read brochure in Romania, if designed in an environmentally friendly way, we could save between 37.284 and 52.156 trees each year. Is it much or little?


I have designed a questionnaire and found the opinion of 25 citizens from Bacau city who accepted to answer 5 questions (fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Completed questionnaires

Fig. 2. Completed questionnaires

Thus, found out that 72% of the people questioned do their shopping in one particular hypermarket and 28% don’t . 48% answered that they receive the supermarket brochure and 52% don’t. When asked if they read it, 20% answered that they always do this, 44% rarely, 32% never and 4% didn’t answer. 80% agreed with the material reducing by removing the blanks and the huge images, 12% disagreed and 8% didn’t answer (graph 1).

Answering the question ”What are you doing when the offer is no longer available?” I have found the following: 16% throw it, 44% use it in different purposes, 25% give it to be recycled and 15% didn’t answer (graph 2).

Graph 1. Do people wish the folder to be shortened? Graph 2. The whither of the folder

Analising the questionnaire, a lot of the hypermarket clients (32%) do not read the brochure. What is more, a lot of materials are delivered to uninhabited houses. In the block of flats in which I live, from 20 flats, 5 are not inhabited, so 25% do not have a consignee. Most respondents consider that the folder should be reduced (80%), even though 44% reuse them in other ways (for packaging, for animals, putting shoes on them etc.) and 25% recycle it. What is worrying is that 16% throw it away, whereas 44% who use them in other ways ignore that dirty or wet paper could not be recycled. Thus, assuming that 16% Romanian people throw away the advertising brochures, we obtain a value of 688 000 papers which reach the paper basket every week nationwide, or 68 800 kilos, summed at the end of every year 3 577 600 kilos, which is really concerning.


The study results of and the suggestion of recycling paper were communicated to the hypermarket (via e-mail) on 5th of February 2017. On February 9th, we received a response from the Broadcasting Department Director, who agreed with the ecological outlines mentioned in our suggestion so a project has been implemented for the paper recycle, project which will be also present in Bacau (fig. 3). On February 17th, I received another e-mail, this time from the Public Relations Department.

Fig. 3. Screenshots of the messages received via e-mail from the company

Fig. 3. Screenshots of the messages received via e-mail from the company


In conclusion, at our country level, there are are some solutions to be taken such as:

  • Reducing the page number by removing the unnecesary blanks or the over-sized images

  • Having a more efficient advertising distribution

  • Suggesting at the end of the brochure that it would be helpful for the environment if the population recycled it

  • Promoting the market and the products electronically (e-mail or text message)

In the interval 27.02-27.03.2017 I received smaller brochures from the hypermarket targeted, so I consider that the study has reached its goal. The company’s reaction was positive and I believe that, every year, a small forest could be saved from the WASTE monster’s teeth.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: https://www.kaufland.ro/Home/05_Compania/007_publicitate_prin_kaufland/_Bilder/kaufland_servicii_publicitare.pdf

Author: Bîre Iulia-Gabriela (Romania)

Change is Coming: Reusable Food Boxes (Slovakia)

YRE Competition 2017
Litter Less Campaign
11-14 years

Fast food restaurants, takeaways and food delivery services produce a considerable amount of disposable packaging. All the wrapping ends up in landfills or in incinerators. Students from Majcichov decided to examine the local situation and encourage takeaway businesses to come up with an environmentally-friendly alternative.

Slovakia still produces large amounts of communal waste. According to the European Commission, it is 475 kg of waste per capita. Within the European Union, Slovakia and Malta have the lowest recycling rates. About 75% of communal waste ends up in landfills, much more compared to most EU countries. Part of the problem is also disposable food packaging.


France is the first country in the world that has decided to ban the use of disposable plastic dishes. The ban on all plastic dishware will go in effect in 2020. According to the new French law, all disposable products will have to contain at least fifty percent biodegradable material, meaning that the dishes will be compostable at home. Later on, this share will go up. However, some companies are against this law. Their biggest concern is that consumers will throw the packaging “behind their courtyard”, as it should be easily biodegradable.


Students addressed the Ministry of the Environment of the Slovak Republic (MoE SR) with a question if a similar policy as in France is being considered: "The Ministry of the Environment does not consider any legal steps to ban the use of plastic utensils and dishes at the moment. The MoE finds plastic dishware a good and convenient household item for some occasions,"said Svetlana Oresi from the Law and Legislation Department of the MoE. The students also asked for recommendations on disposing them: "Used plastic dishware should be placed in yellow bins. Plastic waste is recyclable and there are recycling companies in Slovakia that process such waste," Mrs Oresi added. She also stressed the need for educating of people to use environmentally friendly products.

Students, however, have a different experience with plastic dishware disposal. According to the website of FCC Trnava, a local company in charge of collection and disposal of the municipal waste, disposable plastic dishes should not be sorted out for recycling. This instruction is also included in the leaflet for good sorting out practice, distributed by the company to each household in the region.


Students surveyed the attitude of takeaways and food delivery services in the Trnava region. Although there exist substitutes for plastic disposable packaging on the market, companies do not use biodegradable packaging, even if a customer would ask for it. However, two companies - ESO Motorest in Vlčkovce and Ariana Dönner Kebab & Pizza in Trnava – are open to change. Based on the students´ initiative, they are now willing to meet the customer´s wish, and they pack the take-away food into a lunchbox brought by the customer.


In Portland (Oregon, USA), the GoBox project has been launched. Its goal is to provide customers with an opportunity to buy food without having to bring their own boxes. With the GoBox app, people search for restaurants that are involved in the project. After they finish their lunch, they leave the packaging at the designated places where it is picked up by bicycles and taken to be washed. This project has spread to California, too.

The German company Leaf Republic has started to produce plates made of leaves. A good point is that no adhesives or chemical additives are used for their production. However, the raw material for plates is imported from India. The processing is finalized in Germany, and the result is a plate that decomposes in compost or in a landfill in four weeks. Now it is a challenge for German farmers to start growing new plant species.



Written by students from Slovakia.

Bay in the Balance: Ocean Acidification Threatens the Chesapeake Ecosystem (USA)

YRE Competition 2017
15-18 years

Bay in the Balance: Ocean Acidification Threatens the Chesapeake Ecosystem

As a Marylander, one of my favorite things to do is make the trek up to the Chesapeake Bay. Its sparkling waters, abundant wildlife, and dazzling beauty set it apart as a prime jewel of the East Coast. Nothing can compare to the experience of paddling down the Potomac River on a sunny day, the boughs of a sycamore arching overhead. Poetic license is unnecessary to describe the Bay and its many wonders.

Apart from being a stunner, the Bay provides major cultural and economic benefits. Its unique way of life is perfectly encapsulated in the small towns of Smith Island (population 364), where watermen make a living from the estuary’s bounty. On a recent visit, one local said to me, “We truly build our lives around the water.” From the local fisherman to larger commercial operations, the Chesapeake provides $3.39 billion annually in seafood sales alone, part of a total economic value topping 1 trillion.

The stability of these waters is endangered by the exponentially increasing problem of ocean acidification. This occurs when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed into bodies of water, causing surging acidity levels. Acidification leads to the protective carbonate coverings of shellfish to disintegrate, causing die­offs in oysters, mussels, and other bivalves. Oyster reefs serve to filter the Bay; without a thriving population, harmful pollutants run rampant. High acidity causes oysters’ growth to be stunted, so that shellfish fisheries cannot profit from the smaller, thinner shells. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Maryland and Virginia have suffered losses exceeding $4 billion over the last three decades stemming from the decline of oyster health and distribution.

The losses aren’t economic alone. Characterized by rich biological diversity, an estimated 2,700 species call the Bay their home. This remarkable level of biodiversity is threatened by ocean acidification. The loss of even one species causes a ripple effect through the entire food web, sending it into a state of unbalance. According to a 2004 study in Science, the survival of threatened and non-threatened species is closely linked: when an endangered species goes extinct, dependent ones suffer. A particularly disturbing image of acidification is its effect on fish neurology. Their decision-making skills are significantly delayed to the level where they sometimes swim directly into the jaws of predators.

Zoom out from the Chesapeake to the world ocean. Skyrocketing acidity is present in almost every aquatic biome on our planet. It is clear that we need a solution to our acidifying world. However, methods that at first appeared brilliant have either been limited by their feasibility or come to be outweighed by their negative side effects, ultimately prolonging the search for a solution.

The surprising method of dumping massive amounts of iron sulphate into the water is based on the principle that iron fertilizes phytoplankton, microscopic organisms found in every body of water. The energy phytoplankton gain from the iron allows them to bloom, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and the ocean ­ or in this case, the Bay. When the phytoplankton die they sink to the bottom of the ocean, locking the CO2 there for centuries. In 1988, the late oceanographer John Martin proclaimed, “Give me a half tanker of iron, and I will give you an ice age.” It is theorized that fertilizing 2% of the Southern Ocean could set back global warming by 10 years.

Why not implement this magic fix? First off, iron fertilization is very controversial, and has come under fire for its negative side effects. A 2016 study in Nature determined that the planktonic blooms would deplete the waters of necessary nutrients. Additionally, when the large bloom dies, it would create large “dead zones,” areas devoid of oxygen and life. Side effects aside, this technique may be altogether ineffective. CO2 may simply move up the food chain when the phytoplankton are eaten and be respired back into the water. This was observed when the 2009 Lohafex expedition unloaded six tons of iron off the Southern Atlantic. The desired phytoplankton bloom it caused was promptly gobbled up by miniscule organisms known as copepods.

The alternative solution of planting kelp seems less drastic and more promising. Revitalizing the expansive forests of algae is believed to be effective in sucking up underwater CO2. Kelp grows as quickly as 18 inches a day, and once established offers the added benefits of providing a habitat for marine species and removing nutrient pollution. Researchers from the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, who have been monitoring the capability of this process, found that kelp forests are effective at diminishing acidification on a local scale. While planting key carbon­sucking species across the ocean would not be a feasible solution, kelp forests could help solve the Bay’s acidification crisis.

A third option: instead of cleaning up after this anthropogenic problem, stop it at its root. Environmental regulations enacted by the US government are an effective way to achieve conservation goals. The EPA collaborates with the Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology to investigate the impacts of acidification on ocean chemistry and biology, as well as monitor estuaries such as the Chesapeake. However, given that the EPA is poised to roll back their conservation obligations and instead direct them to individual states, there is a rising need for state and local governments to take action in preserving the Bay’s health. An example of how to counter the acidification of the Bay would be to bring up to date existing zoning policies, such as those in Virginia’s 1998 Bay Preservation Act, to stay on par with the rapidly increasing impacts of CO2.

In the end, there is no straightforward fix ­ a combination of methods is paramount. Efforts by environmental agencies, all levels of government, private industry, and academics must be intertwined in solving this problem. This will only occur with informed interest from citizens whose love for their Bay is as bountiful as its waters.

Written by student from USA.

Photo not taken by author.

Photo not taken by author.

The food waste crisis (Scotland)

YRE Competition 2017
11-14 years

In Scotland, 600,000 tonnes of food are thrown away every year[1]. This is food waste. This amount of food, which could feed approximately 1.2 billion poor people, represents almost a third of household waste. In addition to this, at least 4.7 million people in the UK are in food poverty[2].

Food waste creates economic and environmental harms. Money, time, resources, and effort are often wasted by throwing away good food. It also generates very harmful greenhouse gas, which is dangerous to the planet.

But how does food waste occur?

There are two sides to it: the production stage and the consumption stage. In the production stage, some foods do not enter the food chain for many reasons relating to farmers, supermarkets, pests, and climatic conditions. Supermarkets are usually fussy about the quality of food from farms. They often reject odd looking and unusually sized produce. However, they seem to forget that with the unpredictable weather and the pesky pests, it is almost impossible to grow the perfect produce. Food waste at the consumption stage includes food going out of date and leftovers due to too much food. In households1, food waste consists of mostly fresh fruit and veg, and bakery products such as bread and cakes.

So, what can be done to solve this?

I decided to pop into my local Tesco and Asda stores to speak to their managers and hear what they had to say about food waste, especially the company’s policies for “wonky produce” and their food waste management strategies. I spoke to Fraser from Tesco and Siobhan from Asda. Both managers stated that the reason their respective supermarkets were fussy about the produce’s quality was because they didn't think the quality was high enough for people to want to buy them.

Many supermarkets, including Tesco and Asda, have started selling “imperfect fruits and vegetables” that would not have met their company’s standards before. Both managers stated that since introducing the imperfect produce selections, the range have become quite popular because they were sold at a reduced price and tasted the same as the cosmetically perfect produce. However, when I asked if it would be possible to relax their policies permanently, the response I got was not what I expected.

Siobhan: "Yeah. People don't seem to mind because they taste the same”.

Fraser: “If Tesco relaxed the system permanently and the stock doesn't sell, it would be wasted anyway.”

What other solutions could there be?

One way the big supermarkets can reduce waste is by donating foods approaching their use by dates to charities or food banks. Like before, when I suggested this during the interviews the response was different. Fraser stated that Tesco does give to charities, but there are some issues. Firstly, it is hard to transport the chilled goods between fridges because “we must comply with the cold chain procedure”. This means they are unable to leave the food out of a fridge or cool box for more than 20 minutes. Also, “we never know what will be left at the end of the day”. Siobhan stated that Asda does not give to charities “because the only leftovers each night are already out of date”.

When asked about their companies food sustainability practices; Fraser replied that Tesco has policies for fresh and cooked meat and puts up their sustainability[3] work online. Siobhan replied that she is not aware of any strict policies on any food produce other than fruits and vegetables.

Another food waste source is from our homes and from food outlets (restaurants and fast food). Household food waste accounts for most of the food waste in our country[4]. To understand how to reduce household food waste, we have to explore reasons why it happens. A report by WRAP found that 41% of individuals who eat out stated that the food left was as a result of being served too much food. Below is a chart showing the different reasons why individuals waste food whilst eating out.

Source5 : Understanding out of home consumer food waste, Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) 2013

Source5 : Understanding out of home consumer food waste, Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) 2013

From the chart, an obvious way to reduce food waste is to only order/prepare what you can eat. If you are still hungry, you can always go back for more. Leftovers can be refrigerated and eaten another time. This doesn't only save food, but it also saves money! In the event that it cannot be eaten (seriously, who wants to eats a banana skin or egg shells?!), you can turn it into compost. Check online for composting tips.

Tips on how to minimise food waste:

1. Understanding the terms ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates. Use by dates are there for your safety. It is dangerous to eat food after the use-by date and doing so risks your health. Best before dates tells you how long the food will be at its best quality. Once the food passes this date, it isn't necessarily bad, but you should still check, just to be sure.

2. Every time you go shopping and you bring back new food, put them at the back of your cupboards/fridges and bring the food that will expire soon closer to the front. That way, you know what needs to be consumed first.

3. If you have any food that’s close to expiration that you know won't be eaten, give it to charity. They will really appreciate the food you have given. Every month, my mum and I give to our local homeless charity.

Personally, the most important thing for me is that everyone raises awareness about food waste. From supermarkets and restaurants to farmers and consumers, everyone can play their part to help shape the world we live in and eliminate headlines like the one below from our media.

So, what are you going to do to help reduce food waste?

Now that’s some food for thought!



[1] http://scotland.lovefoodhatewaste.com/node/2479
[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/feeding-britain-the-statistics-that-show-the-scale-of-our-food-wastage-problem-9910558.html
[3] https://www.tescoplc.com/tesco-and-society/sourcing-great-products/reducing-our-impact-on-the-environment/
[4] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/22/uk-tops-chart-of-eu-food-waste
[5] http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/OOH%20Report.pdf

Written by student from Scotland. 

Green roofs - A new life to city's monotony (Portugal)

YRE Competition 2016
15-18 years

A shelter is one of the key instruments for mankind’s survival. We have, however, come from using nature to seek protection in caves to abusing the earth and building indiscriminately disrespecting our home – Earth. Cities and suburbs have been spreading often without rational control or management.  In 2008, for the first time in history, urban population outnumbered rural population. To run their activities, cities require an uninterrupted supply of energy. They consume about 75 percent of global primary energy and emit between 50 and 60 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gases. (UN-HABITAT Global Activity Report, 2015)

On the other hand, cities have been suffering the consequences of civilization development: “the concrete and black tar dictatorship”. Actually, an aerial view of most of our cities shows mainly crowded streets, black tar, tiny people as well as dark gravel-ballasted rooftops. In a word, darkness and very few green spots! Yet, there is a new trend that breaks up the monotony of common buildings facades and roofs: green rooftops and facades.

A green roof is made in layers and requires installation of a specific structure on the roof. Closer to the base, the waterproof membrane aims to prevent rainwater from entering the roof and cause leaks or spills. Just above, the layer that will store part of the rainwater will be used by the plants themselves as a reserve. Above is the earth layer which can vary in thickness. Finally, comes the layer plants – and the species may be different for each region. Living roofs or green roofs last longer than conventional ones, reduce energy costs with natural insulation, create peaceful retreats for people and animals, and absorb stormwater, potentially lessening the need for complex and expensive drainage systems.

On a wider scale, green roofs improve air quality and help reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect, a condition in which city and suburban developments absorb and retains heat. In fact, these roofs are a good method to increase energy efficiency and reduce energy costs. “We have (energy) savings between 20/25% and 75%”, engineer Paulo Palha defends. “(the green roofs) are systems that will keep the warm in the winter and the cool in the summer” and so it will not be as necessary as it is now to have an air conditioner or a heater at home. Another profit is the low maintenance costs of buildings, thanks to the plants’ absorption capability, making it less necessary to have a good drainage system”.

Average monthly energy demands through the reference roof and green roof. Source: http://www.royalroofinginc.ca/blog/

Average monthly energy demands through the reference roof and green roof. Source: http://www.royalroofinginc.ca/blog/

Furthermore, these green roofs give a new look to a city and have an important role in the comfort of the houses as well. They increase the protection against noise. They can also be a garden and if so, it can increase a person’s mood. By creating more green spaces, the differences from the countryside are blurred, losing its dark side and gaining a new life making it more enjoyable to live in a big city. According to architect Luis Silva, responsible for Urban Planning Department of Civil Engineering Company of the Greater Lisbon area, “Green roofs can be used to reduce heating, allow the creation of a natural habitat, contribute to the filtration of pollutants and carbon dioxide and help insulate the acoustics of a building.” A green coverage can heat up to 60 ° C while the common grass reaches only to 25 ° C, the difference can be reflected in the decrease of air conditioning usage, the energy bill (cost reduction from 20 to 30%) and ecological footprint. The typical roofs are constituted by concrete and asphalt. These two materials irradiate the solar energy in the form of heat and, as the heat is propagated by the surroundings, the house temperature increases.

In contrast, green roofs provide the temperature maintenance because its vegetation will use 80% of the energy it absorbs in the evapo-transpiration (2% in the photosynthesis, 48% is transmitted by the leafs and 30% is transformed in heat, used in the transpiration). This prevents the using of air conditioning or heaters that are malignant for the environment, plus for your wallet. The Green roofs vegetation cover dissipates or consumes that energy by evapotranspiration and by photosynthesis, reducing the heat transferred to the interior. Despite the present disadvantage of their high costs, due to the materials involved and, sometimes, the complexity of installation and/or the existence of skilled labor, architects Luís Silva and Thiago Moretti, of Isay Weinfeld Workshop, they both defend that ” The initial cost may bring aestetic, economic benefits, aesthetics and environmental advantages”.

WasteWater Treatment Plant WWTP of Alcantara. Source: http://ancv.webnode.pt/projetos/etar-de-alcantara-lisboa/

WasteWater Treatment Plant WWTP of Alcantara. Source: http://ancv.webnode.pt/projetos/etar-de-alcantara-lisboa/

The implementation of gardens on the roofs of buildings is already relatively popular in the United States, the Scandinavian countries and Germany. Is taking gradually the rest of Europe and Latin America. In Portugal, examples like the new WasteWater Treatment Plant WWTP of Alcantara, The Gulbenkian or the Garden of Olives at the Belem Cultural Centre are already successful projects. More recently the “Natura Towers” were built in Lisbon. These two service buildings have photovoltaic panels and green facades that produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, that’s why they are “totally green”. These towers have a range of 35 m tall grass with integral irrigation and panels about 160 species of plants and flowers and they still have a rainwater storage system for irrigation. The shopping center “Dolce Vita Tejo” also has a green facade, composed of several plants adapted to local conditions in its central square.

Nature Towers Lisbon. Source: http://blog.imobiliario.com.pt/2015/05/b-prime-coloca-revisores-oficiais-de.html

Nature Towers Lisbon. Source: http://blog.imobiliario.com.pt/2015/05/b-prime-coloca-revisores-oficiais-de.html

The Faculty of Science, University of Lisbon (FCUL) aims to develop an experimental study, installing an extensive coverage (150 square meters) of green roofs. This project, considered emblematic by its promoters, shows that the Portuguese Universities are willing to contribute to greater sustainability with the development of research projects. For architectural , energetic, environmental and aesthetic reasons, putting a lawn or a garden on top of housing or covering a facade starts to make sense in our country! And… wouldn’t you feel better to watch green instead of the usual grey?

Written by students from Portugal.

Clean water is the source of our lives (Serbia)

YRE Competition 2016
19-21 years


The Budovar Canal is the stream that springs in the vicinity of the village of Čortanovci at Mountain Fruška Gora, flows through Eastern Srem, meanders and finally flows into the Danube River, near Stari Banovci. The Canal had a large number of animal and plant species living in the water as well as on the river banks. Yes, you read it correctly: “had”! Today this place is an example of reckless behavior.

Having in mind the fact that feces and wastewaters from nearby settlements are being dumped in the Canal without any purification methods, we can notice that its current state is alarming. Beside the point sources of pollution, the problem also lays in diffuse sources, like run-offs from urban areas (streets, parking places, lawns, gardens etc.).

Research has determined that the quality of Danube water, where the Budovar Canal flows in, falls in the Third category (on a scale where the Second category stands for optimal quality). From time to time on the banks of the Canal, animal waste can be seen with very unpleasant odor, all of which can cause serious consequences to human health.

This problem occurred after years of waste disposal. People were throwing plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, plastic bags, and organic waste into the Canal or just leaving them laying around its banks, hoping that the water would carry them away. But now, the amount of waste is so big that water cannot carry it away.

Questioning the local people, I’ve found that the greatest problems occur when the water level rises. Water ejects the solid waste that cannot be dissolved and that is when the human negligence reaches its peak because the waste is spread around the street and no one is responsible for collecting it.

As a member of the association “Think Blue, Think Green” (in Serbian: Misli plavo, misli zeleno), devoted to public education on sustainable development, climate change and green economy, I have a need to raise the awareness in my hometown about importance of finding the solution for this problem and possible consequences if it is not resolved. I have the support for this project from Local Community Office of Stari Banovci which is willing to assist through promoting examples of good practice among citizens, initiating actions for environmental protection and educating the citizens about recycling. Public forum with the members of environmental group was organized in elementary school “Slobodan Savković“, in which children expressed their suggestions about water protection and its multiple benefits in human life. Traveling to school each day, children cross the bridge over the Budovar Canal, and look at the scene that should not be their first memory for nature that surrounds them. As a confirmation that this part of the Canal still has some life in it, are fishermen that can be seen, but much less than before, so let’s save what can be saved.

Also, I am inviting all Eco-Reporters to make the Map of Red Flags of Serbia together, in which we would mark with red flags all polluted areas that have problems with soil, water, and air. The map would be a push towards solving the marked problems and call for everyone to improve the relations between the men and the nature.

The Map of Red Flags of Serbia could be published on the internet, thus being available to all, and after solving the problem, a red flag would be replaced with a green one, and near each one, we will place “before” and “after” photos. In cases where help is provided by environmentally responsible companies, their logo would be placed on the flag as a sign of gratitude. I would not stop on just organizing the actions, but also organize a SOCIAL COMPANY that could provide possibilities for new forms of support in protection systems.

So, let’s alert Serbia with Red Flags!

Written by student from Serbia.

Consequences of reckless behavior

Consequences of reckless behavior

The bridge in Stari Banovci with Budovar flowing underneath

The bridge in Stari Banovci with Budovar flowing underneath

Fishing in the Canal

Fishing in the Canal

Community Gardens, a solution for a healthy and profitable life-style (Greece)

YRE Competition 2015
15-18 years

Undergoing the global economic crisis, Greece is a country that has been deeply affected on various aspects of daily life especially in urban centers. The cost of living has risen considerably and food products have become more expensive than it used to be. People struggle for a new socioeconomic transformation and experiment with new ideas and creative actions. Community Gardens seem to be the new emerging trend in Greece as they offer not only an economic and ecological renewal of the cities but also a healthy and a mental support to the people that get involved.

Being a member of the radio group of our school, I have participated in radio broadcasts that focus on environment issues. Community gardens and urban agriculture is the focus of our research as they tend to be the unfolding solution for a healthy and profitable urban lifestyle.

It has been observed that mainly people with lower income produce food in modern urban centres, with minimal energy consumption and lower production and transport costs. However, the number of people getting involved seems to rise as more and more want to check what exactly they are eating. When looking at building roofs, shade structures over parking lots and see gardens, we understand that people are trying to obtain the basic organic ingredients for food, to save money and simultaneously they contribute to a personal urbanism to reshape our cities. Urban agriculture is presented as one of a suite of strategies for helping to address both the crisis of obesity/diabetes as well as issues of food access, security and hunger.

After a short investigation in the prefecture of Thessaloniki, we found out that PERKA is currently the largest and most active voluntary urban farming team. It has been founded by citizens whose aim is to 2 grow plants, vegetables and herbs in a farm near the city. The first yard was created in an old abandoned military camp approximately 689.000m2 . The growth is a non-profit job and the foods that are being produced are pure organic. PERKA members not only they try to bring the people closer to nature, but they also try to bring all the people closer to each other. Besides, what is better than creating friendships in a beautiful green environment?

During our radio broadcast on fm100, 6, we interviewed Mr. Vaggelis Matziris, who is the Department Head of parks and gardens in Thessaloniki. He informed us about the very first Urban Vineyard that has been created in the heart of Thessaloniki in association with the wine-maker company “Gerovasileiou” and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. “A yard approximately 2000m2 was planted with a white and red variety of grapes. Now in 2-3 years we are expecting the first wine of the municipality of Thessaloniki. The wine will be given to the market after an auction for charity purposes” said Mr Matziris. The first urban vineyard is open to public, especially for schools which take part in environmental projects.

Part of our research was the interview we had with three postgraduate students MLA Landscape Architecture School of Architecture, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki: Eleftheria Gavriilidou, Eleni Oureilidou (Architects) and Maria Ritou, (Agriculturist). They were selected by Angelopoulos CGIU Fellowship Programme 2014. The fellowship involved the participation in Clinton Global Initiative University Conference in Phoenix, Arizona in March 2014 as well asthe sponsorship for the realization of their idea in Greece. The Project is called “Kipos3 : The City as a resource”. It examines how urban Community Gardens can contribute to an urban development, opening a social, economic and ecological renewal of the city with innovative perspectives. Urban agriculture could be developed in the Greek cities, operating not only as food resource introducing the primary sector in the city but also as a generator for socio-economic transformation towards the green economy. It proposes new life – styles and social environments envisioning a new way of living the urban life.

In Thessaloniki urban farms pop up in every imaginable place. The gardens on rooftops, terraces, balconies have become increasingly common. Even some students seem to contribute in this effort since they try to produce herbs and even vegetables in school environments.

We carried out a survey among people who are involved with community gardens. Thirty questionnaires were given to men and women aged 27-70 years. The majority of them enjoy saving money and eating healthy food while, at the same time, they develop strong relationships with neighbours and have the satisfaction of creativity.

Farming in community gardens is getting highly creative and innovative nowadays. It has significant benefits, including organic products, minimized cost, as well as reduced greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Educating urban residents in Greece about agriculture and ecology offers not only material support but also a healthy lifestyle and a feeling of solidarity, creativity and happiness.

Written by student from Greece. 

Dissemination Actions: The results of our research have been disseminated during our radio broadcast on fm100, 6 in May 2014. They have also been announced in the Festival of Environmental Education of Thessaloniki in 2014.

Polk County, Strangled - Polk County Middle School (USA)

YRE Competition 2015
11-14 years

Kudzu is smothering Polk County, North Carolina. The vines grow 12 inches each day; creeping into roads, climbing trees, and suffocating other plants. Locals are finding unusual and productive uses for the invasive species, yet it continues to start wildfires and cloak farm fields (mountain of dead kudzu, right).

Kudzu was brought from clipped, ornamental Asian gardens to ditches and eroded areas of the United States in 1876. From 1935 through the 1950s, Southern farmers planted the foreign vine in an attempt to control erosion. Kudzu took off, spreading throughout the states. The farmers quickly realized their mistake, and they focused on the potential of the fast growing plant for other agricultural uses.

It was discovered that kudzu is high in protein, and has no effect on the color or taste of milk, butterfat or meat when fed to livestock.  Animals and their caretakers haven’t shown signs of allergies, and cows, horses, goats, and rabbits enjoy the vine and do well with it in their diet. In Polk County today, there are many who graze their animals on kudzu. Goats relish it, eating it fast and in large amounts. Citizens often mention the need for more of these animals whenever a conversation turns to kudzu. In Saluda, the highest elevated town in Polk County, kudzu is baled as a hay substitute and sent to droughtstricken areas or where traditional hay is scarce.

Kudzu is a widely available and nutritious food option for livestock. Cows who graze off of kudzu weigh close to the same as cows who graze on grass and are fed wheat supplements. The wheat is what gives them their bulk; however, which isn’t good for their digestive system. Kudzu has more protein than grass by itself, and its cheaper to use as a grazing crop since its so abundant and grows at a quick rate.

According to Patrick McLendon from the Polk County Agriculture Center, which holds farming and gardening classes as well as a farm food store and seasonal markets, many citizens are utilizing the crop in other ways. He describes the Kudzu Lady, who “actually brings products to the farm store, kudzu jelly, kudzu chai tea, hay, baskets and wreaths.” Matthew Wilson from Polk Fresh Foods, an initiative to bring farm products to local markets, described unique and productive uses of kudzu as well, saying “there is even kudzu root tea, kudzu syrup, and of course some folks use it for grazing their poultry and their goats, which is one sure fire way to kill it without using pesticides: by grazing till it won’t produce leaves, because after it can’t produce the leaves that send the nutrients to the roots it’ll die, though it takes a while.” If pesticides are used, other plants could be killed unintentionally as well.

Despite constant use of kudzu, it regenerates too quickly to keep in check. Mr. McLendon informed me that “the AG center is about a third covered in Kudzu,” which is “amazingly hard to get rid of.” Brian Rogers from the Polk County Forest Service said that “if we plant trees, kudzu strangles them.” Chocolate Drop Mountain, a small mountain on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was facing serious mudslide and erosion problems after it was clear cut. Kudzu was planted, but it quickly took over–sections of the roads are now covered.

Kudzu doesn’t stop at ground level. It scales tall trees in order to absorb sunlight with its broad leaves, and in the fall those leaves die and the vines become dry and brittle. Wildfires that occur because of the dead kudzu often engulf the entire forest canopy, and are difficult to put out. Getting kudzu out of tall trees is no easy task. On the ground, kudzu is just as hard to control. The large, woody root can get up to six feet wide and takes time to dig up (root as thick as a thumb, left).

Introducing foreign species to control environmental issues isn’t the only option. Without natural predators, kudzu rampaged across Polk County and beyond. Plants native to the Americas, such as the trumpet creeper; can be planted to control erosion instead of Kudzu. Large scale companies can begin producing kudzu products, and farmers can feed their livestock kudzu full time.  Answers flourish in Polk County, and if advertised and put into large scale practice–kudzu could be controlled.

I plan on submitting this article to the Tryon Daily Bulletin. I’ve chosen this local newspaper because a huge percentage of Polk County has access to and reads it. Teachers submit images from field trips and spirit days to this paper, which are often published. I want people young and old who associate themselves with agriculture in any form to understand the importance of containing kudzu, and I want to inspire them to do something about it.

Author Jeanne Ferran