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EPA honors Forest Hills teen for book recycling

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and President George W. Bush honored Forest Hills resident Raphael Spiro last Thursday for a unique recycling program he initiated in 2003, saving unwanted books from landfills by donating them to schools, nursing homes, homeless shelters and wounded soldiers.

The EPA and Bush held an awards ceremony in the White House Rose Garden where they presented Spiro and winners from throughout the United States with the President's Environmental Youth Award for their contributions in promoting environmental awareness and community involvement in issues such as lead, recycling, water quality monitoring, air pollution and carbon footprints.

Spiro, 17, founded Bedsidebooks in 2003 after he noticed there was a scarcity of good reading material in his grandfather's nursing home. He also noticed that stacks of books and magazines get picked up every week in the city's curbside recycling program. Since then the program has grown to include many schools seeking materials to build a classroom library, he said. He and his brother and father began collecting and donating reading material to organizations in order to reduce the volume of books and magazines in landfills in the city, he said.

"We found a statistic on-line that for every 300 recycled books, one tree is saved," Spiro said.

The local book donation project grew in subsequent years, and Spiro set up Web site www.bedsidebooks.org to encourage other students to initiate similar projects in their communities. In five years, more than 200 students in 16 states have collected and donated more than 47,000 books, Spiro said, which amounts to more than 150 trees not cut down. Their combined efforts also saved 60,000 gallons of water that would have been used to produce paper and prevented more than 5,000 pounds of air pollution.

Up to 10 winning projects are selected every year for the President's Environmental Youth Awards, which have been given out annually since 1971. This year's winners received a plaque from the president and EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

"Environmental responsibility is everyone's responsibility," Johnson said. "This year's President's Environmental Youth Award winners have made protecting our planet an everyday commitment, and proven that together we can create a cleaner, healthier world."

Among the nine other winners were a Boy Scout troop from Massachusetts that focused on the impact on fish and wildlife of lead fishing weights left behind in waterways by recreational fishers and a team of five students from Washington State who developed a program that challenges teachers to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide generated in the classroom through transportation, recycling, electricity and heating. The teachers and students saved 72 tons of carbon dioxide in the program's first year.

Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at achristodoulides@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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