More than 100 pounds a day of waste from the cafeteria will be composted and reused once a composting bin is operational at Hellgate High School.

The large bin normally costs about $10,000, but was donated to the school by the University of Montana's Dining Services.

And on Tuesday – the eve of Earth Day – the project got another boost with a $1,000 SMART Green Challenge grant presented by Lt. Gov. Angela McLean.

“It’s fantastic. We really appreciate the support,” said Audrey Stanton, a senior and president of Students Against Violating the Earth.

Hellgate was one of 13 schools across the state to receive recognition under the Saving Money and Resources Today Schools Challenge. The program is a partnership between McLean, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Green Building Council.

Two other area schools also won awards, with Seeley-Swan High School receiving a SMART Energy Challenge award for its creation of a long-term resource conservation and energy management plan and Seeley Lake Elementary receiving a SMART Green Challenge award for its resource conservation plan and recycling of 3,158 pounds of waste.

Students involved in the environmentally sustainable work are leaders in the school, Missoula, state and nation, McLean said, adding that investing in students is the most important expenditure the state can make to ensure it is globally competitive.

"Don't you doubt it for a second," she told students about their ability to compete.

SAVE members' work at Hellgate goes beyond the compost project and includes a rooftop garden and other garden plots, as well as recycling and solar panels.

Already, Hellgate has expanded its recycling efforts through SAVE's work.

“So now the next step is composting,” said Audrey Stanton, a senior and president of SAVE.

The composting tub will take paper, meat, cheese and a variety of other organic materials that then will be used to support the school’s gardening efforts, which include a rooftop garden that produces tulips and salsa ingredients and off-site garden plots.

The award will go a long way in helping cover the more than $3,000 in installation and permitting costs, although SAVE members are hopeful the city will waive some of the permitting fees.

Perhaps more difficult than getting the bin operational, though, will be getting students to put appropriate waste in composting containers that then will be dumped into the larger bin.

“That’s part of it – education,” Stanton said about the students' sustainability work. “Just changing the way we do things.”

McLean agreed.

“It’s about changing the culture, it really is,” she said.

Other Earth Day events, including the annual "trashion" show, will take place throughout the week at Hellgate High. For more information, go to mcpsmt.org/hellgate.

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