Holiday Fund: Gunn promotes green goals

High school team strives for eco-friendly campus, less waste

The Gunn High School Robotics Team, 50 students strong, works tirelessly January through March, meeting frequently to create award-winning robots. Hardworking high schoolers get awfully thirsty and hungry, and those frequent meetings equal a lot of thrown-out plates, cutlery and plastic water bottles -- at least in seasons past.

This year, however, thanks to a campus environmental group known as the Gunn Green Team and a grant from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, the robotics team is going green.

"If they go through 25 or 30 water bottles a day, it really adds up," said Uma Seshadri, former parent chair for the Gunn Green Team, adding that during the robotics team's intense work period, more than 2,000 pieces of disposable dishes and cups are used.

But for the 2011 robotics-team season, the Green Team will be using part of its $1,000 Holiday Fund grant to purchase compostable and recyclable plates, cups, spoons, napkins, etc., as well as to switch from individual water bottles to large, refillable jugs.

Uma's daughter Sumana Seshadri, a Gunn senior involved with both the green and robotics teams, said last year the Green Team secured one of the school's 72-gallon compost bins for the robotics team's use at their nightly dinners.

"We can fill one of those up in half a week," she said. By switching to compostable utensils that can be tossed in the compost bins with the food waste, "there'll be a lot less trash to worry about," she said.

Using eco-friendlier supplies "can really make a huge impact" on the environmental consciousness of the campus, Uma Seshadri said. The team also plans to use any remaining funds to purchase more eco-friendly supplies for the yearbook staff.

"Students at Gunn are very supportive and aware of environmental issues so what we're doing is making sure they follow through," Green Team co-head and school environmental commissioner Cynthia Hua, 17, said.

The Green Team was first formed in 2006 as a coalition between students, parents and staff, as well as community environmental groups. The team is now student-run, although parents are invited to attend meetings, Hua said.

The robotics team and yearbook group are just the first step in this year's focus on waste, which has also seen the school upgrade to bigger bins to increase capacity for recycling and composting, Hua said.

Eventually the Green Team hopes to spread its message of environmental responsibility across the school, reaching all of the more than 80 clubs and groups, making composting commonplace and, ultimately, creating a zero-waste campus. Other goals include starting a hiking club to encourage teens to get away from their energy-guzzling computers, video games and cars and into the great outdoors, as well as making recycling and composting a more regular part of students' lives on campus.

"There are a lot of recycling opportunities at school; people just aren't always aware of them yet," Sumana Seshadri said.

"The Green Team is determined to make every member of the Gunn community environmentally conscious," Uma Seshadri wrote in the team's grant application -- one club at a time.

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