A few years ago, Shrusti Amula noticed her fellow students throwing away food that was untouched or unopened during lunch at school, so she decided to focus on composting and preventing food waste.
Now a junior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Amula received a Climate and Energy Leadership award earlier this month from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments for her efforts.
The Germantown resident won in the nonprofit organization category for a project mitigating food waste.
Amula’s project “Can We Do Something About Food Waste?” aims to repurpose food waste from restaurants and grocery stores to instead serve members of the community who experience food insecurity, according to a press release from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. It also diverts food waste to compost facilities in place of landfills and incinerators.
Amula started the composting program in 2018 and founded Rise N Shine Foundation in 2019, which works with local elementary schools, and also restaurants and grocery stores. The foundation conducts food recovery programs.
The foundation currently has around 15 student members and works with seven Montgomery County public elementary schools: Clarksburg, Cedar Grove, Wilson Wims, Burtonsville, Viers Mill, Bradley Hills and Highland View. Members of the foundation recover around 500 pounds of food waste each week, Amula said.
The foundation has recovered around 52,000 pounds of food waste to serve eight shelter homes and food banks, according to the press release.
Amula said she typically spends an hour or two a day working on the project. Because the program is primarily based in schools, she coordinates with several administrators over email to iron out the details of providing services.
“We get a lot of interest from schools because as the idea is expanding and more people are learning about it, there’s a lot of schools that reach out to us,” Amula said.
Applicants for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ climate and energy leadership awards were evaluated based on a rubric with categories ranging from engagement to creativity, according to Leah Boggs, an environmental planner at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The selection committee also considers if projects are replicable and can be implemented elsewhere.
Boggs said Rise N Shine received high scores across all of the categories and was “highly replicable” because the foundation works with multiple schools across Montgomery County.
“This was actually the first time that there was a student-led application, so the judging members of the committee were very excited about that,” Boggs said.
Looking ahead, Amula said she is in touch with administrators to start implementing the program at more schools in the county.
“We want to hopefully expand the composting and food recovery programs in schools, hopefully to all schools in Montgomery County, if not Maryland,” Amula said.
Christine Zhu of Gaithersburg, a junior at the University of Maryland who is studying journalism and Spanish, was the Bethesda Beat 2022 summer intern.