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Washington County students encouraged to write essays about food waste open until April 2.

An opportunity for Washington County high school students to earn cash prizes and internships is currently looking for submissions.

The Washington County Climate Essay Contest returns for its second year. The group behind it,, is an environmental activism grassroots organization with branches around the world.

Last year, the organization chose students from Forest Grove and Beaverton as winners.

For this year's challenge, 350 Washington County is asking students to write about a topic prevalent to every household — food waste and its significance on climate change.

The essay is meant to address several questions. One example: "How does wasted food harm the environment, impact communities and contribute to climate change?"

Entries can be submitted in English or Spanish. High school students may enter in three separate categories — video (individual), team video (up to four people), and the 1,000- to 1,500-word essay for individual students.

Debby Garman founded the branch in Washington County after seeing that there were residents who were interested in joining the 350 movement, but they weren't able or didn't want to drive into Portland to participate.

The Climate Essay Contest is a way to introduce students to issues and provide learning opportunities for their resumes, Garman said.

"Youth are going inherit this planet in whatever state they find it, and I am afraid we are not leaving a very good legacy," Garman said. "The sooner they figure that out and start taking personal action themselves, the better off everyone will be. These are the future leaders."

Not only is cash involved, but students also have the chance for a summer internship offer through the Hillsboro School District, Renew Oregon or 350.

"This contest will align nicely with students' classwork and earn extra credit based on what their teachers think," Garman said. "This is meant to be friendly and pragmatically aligned with school curriculum and give students opportunities to distinguish themselves (by) showing interest in the environment and sustainability."

By talking about food waste, 350 hopes to make a "quick dive" into an issue that affects everyone, Garman said.

"It is a sneaky topic," she said. "It impacts the climate on every level from massive agriculture, which is destructive and releases carbon in the dirt. If the issue is carbon particulate matter in the atmosphere, then agriculture practices are a significant contributor — and you've got all the packaging, transportation to get it into people's hands. Families buy lettuce and lets it rot in the fridge."

Garman added, "About 90 percent of the food produced is ultimately wasted. That is a huge amount. It wastes water, land, labor and money. Decomposing food releases methane gas, which is worse than carbon."

Rules and more information on the Climate Essay Contest are available via the online portal at Applications must be submitted via the website no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 2. Questions may be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or .

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