Healy students founded the Zero Landfill Ambassador Program and are being honored with a Spirit of Youth Award. Left to right: Erin Przybylski, Ayla Walker, Emma Tomeo and Ben Brown. Not pictured: Will Tomeo. Photo courtesy Emily Myhre/Denali Education Center.

HEALY — When the Zero Landfill Initiative came to the Denali Park area, it was the young people who had spread the word. They formed ZLAP, the Zero Landfill Ambassador Program.

This small group of teens, who attend Tri-Valley School, are now being honored for their past three years of dedication to this program. They are winners of the statewide Spirit of Youth Discovery Award and will accept the honor at a special banquet in Anchorage later this month.

The remaining founding members include Erin Przybylski, Ayla Walker, Emma Tomeo and Ben Brown.

It all began three years ago when Subaru chose Denali National Park as one of three national parks to move toward the goal of zero waste going into the landfill. Eight middle- and high-school students from Tri-Valley School partnered with Subaru and the park to spread the word about this program. That number grew to include about 35 students from three schools in the Denali Borough.

Subaru has also sponsored these students to attend the National Service Learning Conference for the past couple years. Students will again attend this year and present a presentation about the youth ambassador program. They’ll also present other service learning projects.

“This year, there are 14 students attending the conference in Philadelphia in April,” said Kesslyn Tench, who spearheads the program for the school district. “One student is leading a workshop at the conference teaching others about ZLAP.”

The students will also visit Subaru headquarters and present their service learning projects.

Here is what is happening with ZLAP this year:

Tri-Valley School sponsors a recycling program for paper and also promotes composting. The elementary school helps empty paper recycling bins. They make posters to educate everyone on how to recycle properly and work with other students to teach proper composting during lunch hours.

Environmental science students have made table bins for compostable materials. They take the compost out to the central bin daily and mix it. They developed an educational video about composting. They even created a composting mascot called Montana Banana and one student dressed as a banana for several visits to the lunchroom with elementary students who were learning about composting.

They spearheaded a Compost Carnival at Halloween to teach young students about composting and recycling.

Cantwell School also recycles paper. A student there is also working on a service learning project to help with a specific plastic.

The students collect all recycled materials once per week. They have held an all-school assembly to teach other students on how to recycle properly and set a goal of no contaminants in the recycling bins for one week — a goal they finally achieved.

Two students are analyzing waste for science fair projects. One is distilling plastic into oil, in an attempt to reduce waste in the landfill. The other is making compressed fuel logs out of cardboard to determine the best mix of cardboard, sawdust and wood chips to produce the highest BTU, lowest ash content and longest burn.

Usibelli Coal Mine is providing lab equipment for testing.

Another student is educating others about the problem of single use plastics and working to reduce the use of plastic straws and plastic bags in the local area.

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.