How 3 California teens made their high school more sustainable

Kevin Malaekeh, Jack Galloway and Jake McCullough were ordinary high school students who noticed their world crumbling around them.

The Northern California teenagers witnessed mountains and lakes dry up and their community ablaze due to the climate crisis. After living through droughts and wildfires, they wanted to make a change. Together they founded the Youth Climate Action Coalition (YCAC). 

Malaekeh is president, Galloway is executive director and McCullough serves as executive vice president. 

“YCAC focuses on simple sustainable initiatives that really anyone can implement in their school or in their community. When done at a large scale, [it can] have a tremendous impact and help us reduce our carbon emissions,” Malaekeh told In The Know. 

Some of the projects YCAC does include installing faucet aerators and low energy lights, along with launching composting and recycling programs. Malaekeh noted that Expo markers, the kind used for whiteboards, is some of the “most toxic” waste to come out of schools. 

“We just handed out to the teachers at our school a brown paper bag. We told them to throw away any dead Expo markers. At the end of each week, we would collect them into one big bin and send them over to Crayola with the Crayola ColorCycle program,” McCullough explained.

The boys also compost 20 pounds of food waste from their school each week. If composting were done on a larger scale it could save tens of thousands of carbon emissions from ending up in our atmosphere. 

“When we compost this material that prevents it from being in a landfill, if this material is stored in an anaerobic environment it produces methane, which is a dangerous greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change,” Galloway said. 

After working within their school, YCAC went digital to broaden its reach. Now young people all over the world have access to resources to take on climate justice in their own communities, by starting new chapters or taking on initiatives. 

“We’re really trying to create environmental change at the end of the day. It’s not necessarily about YCAC, we just really want to see change,” McCullough said. 

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