Project Green Challenge

Each October, Project Green Challenge (PGC)  informs, inspires and mobilizes high school, college, and graduate students worldwide focused on climate action, public health, social justice and advocacy

This powerful and diverse call to action features 30 days of environmentally-themed challenges that touch lives, shift mindsets, and equip students with knowledge, resources and mentorship to lead change on campuses and in communities. Through conscious living, informed consumption, and individual and collective climate action, PGC participants are challenged to envision and work toward the healthy, just, resilient planet and future in which they can thrive — for eleven years and counting.

Each day during October, a uniquely themed challenge is delivered to registered participants in email at 6am Pacific Time and remains live for 24 hours. Students complete bold actions, upload deliverables, acquire points on a leaderboard and in the process, help heal the planet. Submissions tap into students creativity, research skills, out-of-the-box thinking and using their ingenuity with photography, videography, artwork and written content uploaded on the PGC site and @TurningGreenOrg social platforms. The 30-day journey prompts participants to transition to a conscious way of thinking! Theme-related prize packages are awarded daily for outstanding work and submissions.

At the end of the 30 days, up to 16 PGC Finalists will be selected to join Turning Green for a three-day eco summit in November, 2022. This in-person event takes place in San Francisco.

Deliverables for PGC Finalists  

  • PGC Finals Part 1 (Nov 2022) Finalists are flown to San Francisco to present their 30-day journeys and develop frameworks for Climate Action Projects 
  • Climate Action Projects (Dec 2022 – Apr 2023)  Finalists work with a team of mentors to develop their Climate Action Projects  
  • PGC Finals Part 2 Virtual (Apr 2023) Finalists present Climate Action Projects and one or more PGC Champions are named and will share a $5,000 Acure Green Award.

Since launching in 2011, PGC has built a movement of powerful young leaders, engaging over 321,510 students directly and tens of millions indirectly on 13,397 campuses, 50 states and 164 countries. We invite you to join us and together heal the planet!

Project Green Challenge 2021 Winners

Ikem-Nwosu Promise (PGC 2021 Champion)
Sophomore, Nigerian Maritime University
Okerenkoko, Nigeria
Vincent Kreft (Second Place)
Junior, Bloomington High School North
Bloomington, IN
Team LCDS Green Committee (Third Place)
Senior, Lancaster Country Day School
Lancaster, PA

Project Green Challenge 2021 Finalists

2021 STATS

776
SCHOOLS
4,808
PARTICIPANTS
50
STATES
49
COUNTRIES

11 YEARS OF PGC STATS

13,397
SCHOOLS
321,510
USERS
50
STATES
164
COUNTRIES

We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in change.
Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
– Howard Zinn, American historian, playwright, philosopher, socialist thinker and World War II veteran

We create waste every single day. Too much of it is plastic. Too much will exist for hundreds of years. Too much of it is out of sight, but cannot be out of mind. People may think that the lifecycle of a product begins when we make a purchase and ends when we throw an item “away,” but in reality, what we see is only a small fraction of its journey and impact. Stuff never really goes away. It may decompose or be turned into something else, but the vast majority is destined to sit in landfills or waterways forever, polluting our atmosphere, resources and planet.
 
All people deserve the right to exist in a clean environment, but this standard goes unmet at a global scale. Pollution is a critical environmental justice issue, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and low-income communities are the most likely to be affected by it, live near waste management facilities, and be exposed to harmful chemicals, as we learned in the Climate Justice challenge. Studies show that “rather than hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities [TSDFs] ‘attracting’ people of color, neighborhoods with already disproportionate and growing concentrations of people of color appear to ‘attract’ new facility siting.”
 
Let’s start at the beginning of the life of one of the most prominent types of waste: a plastic product. Plastic is made from fossil fuels, often extracted from Native American land or transported through it. From their extraction, fossil fuels go to refineries that are frequently located in low-income BIPOC communities, causing serious health complications. These populations are also more likely to consume plastic products or plastic-packaged ones, due to low sales price and convenience. The products leach dangerous chemicals and pollute bodies and the environment throughout their life cycle. Finally, plastic waste is transported to landfills, far too many of which are poorly managed and leak chemicals into nearby communities disproportionately populated by BIPOC.
This may sound scary — because it is. But there have been some advances towards promoting less plastic use and fixing damage that has already been done. For instance, President Biden’s executive order on tackling the climate crisis specifically addressed environmental injustice. However, this is only a start, and there is much to be done to protect vulnerable communities, reduce waste and safeguard our Earth.
 
The pandemic has caused waste to surge in the past year and a half, given the massive global increase in disposable everything. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), single-use cups, cutlery, bags etc. have been used en masse since the pandemic started, as people, governments and businesses try to ensure health and safety. Concerns over cross-contamination have prompted grocery stores and coffee shops to not allow customers to bring their own reusable bags, jars, mugs or other items. Although scientists and doctors say that sanitized reusable cups are safe to use, many are hesitant to use them again, and most shops still do not allow it. Buying in bulk has become a challenge, as many stores replaced bulk bins with prepackaged, plastic-heavy options to mitigate exposure. The pandemic has changed everything, including consumption and waste of plastic, styrofoam, and other synthetic materials, largely in the form of products with harmful environmental consequences. Low-waste start-ups have seen a rise in sales since the pandemic started, likely due to concern from sustainability-minded people; sadly, this is far outweighed by the wave of single-use items being produced and consumed.
 
While it may be difficult to live a low waste lifestyle right now, there is some good news. As mentioned above, reusables are safe to use during the pandemic, per a statement backed by over 115 scientists around the world. Dr. Mark Miller, former director of research at the National Institute of Health’s Fogarty International Center, explains that public health must include thinking about the Earth. Promoting single-use items to “decrease exposure to COVID-19” works against the environment and negatively impacts water systems and food supplies. Reusable bags, containers, and utensils are safe to use, if cleaned and handled properly.
 
Is plastic hazardous to human health? The answer, unfortunately, is yes. Plastics contain chemicals linked to cancer and other major health concerns, as a result of leaching from packaging into food. Studies also show that plastic can break down into tiny, nearly microscopic pieces called microplastics, often present in food or water and easily ingested into the body. A 2019 study found that humans ingest around 5 grams of plastic each week, the same amount of plastic as a credit card. While plastic may seem convenient and sanitary, it comes with serious long term health risks.
 
After a single-use item is used and disposed of, where does it go? Items most likely end up in landfill, where 79% of all plastic ever producedpermanently resides, taking up to 500 years or more to degrade. Or it may be swept into waterways, ultimately polluting the ocean and wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems. Almost 13 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year, adversely affecting the entire ecosystem.
 
Waste has become a negative byproduct of daily life, but it doesn’t have to be that way!  According to our partner, 5 Gyres, the top six sources of plastic pollution (food wrappers, bottle and container caps, plastic bags, straws and stirrers, plastic cutlery and take out containers) can be easily eliminated. Additionally, another top recent major polluter is disposable face masks, due to the pandemic. There are reusable alternatives for all of these items. Companies like today’s partner, Klean Kanteen, offer reusables for cups and food containers that make it simple to transition to a low waste lifestyle without any sacrifice.
 
However, we must be mindful of not making a blanket assumption about the accessibility of reusable objects. An issue that is not talked about enough is the necessity of some single use plastics, specifically to the disabled community. Plastic straws are one such essential, providing people living with disabilities an opportunity to live independently, thanks to flexibility, sterility, and no choking hazard. Blanket single-use plastic bans are not the solution, as they don’t acknowledge lived realities of all. With that being said, if individuals do not need single use plastics and are able to cut down on waste, we can be assured that there will be an impact on the plastic industry. Less demand for plastic products will affect the need for fossil fuel extraction, processing, plastic transportation, and landfills.
 
Consider this: in just one day, the average American produces 4.5 pounds of wasteIn the Footprint Challenge, you learned how many Earths it would require to support our unsustainable current habits. So how can we start reducing our waste right now? 
 
REFUSE. As Plastic Pollution Coalition reminds us, “plastic is a substance the Earth cannot digest. Refuse single-use plastic.” Refusing is the most important step you can take to reduce waste, as it significantly decreases intake. This applies to styrofoam, disposable masks, unnecessary purchases or consumption of any kind.
 
REDUCE. Buying items in bulk, choosing those with less packaging, and cutting back on quantities you buy all help to reduce waste. Buying from plastic-free and low-waste companies like Package Free ShopBlueland and By Humankind can help you reduce the amount of plastic waste your lifestyle produces.
 
REUSE. By reusing and repurposing items, you can greatly lessen waste and extend the life of what you already have! Reusable