It’s the schools’ turn to get down and dirty as they showcase their freshest ideas and best practices in reusing, reducing, and recycling their waste.

Three government agencies and a non-government environmental network have once again joined hands to recognize students’ best initiatives in solid waste management with the forging of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to launch the Zero Basura Olympics (ZBO) for Academic Division.

Formally sealing the partnership recently were the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and Earth Day Network Philippines.

The ZBO version for schools is an offshoot of previous ZBO recognizing exemplary practices of local government units and businesses in implementing the provisions of Republic Act (RA) 9003, also known as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. It will be carried out next school year 2011-2012. Nominees will be categorized in three, representing elementary, secondary and tertiary levels. There will be three winners per category. The final mechanics will be announced later.

DENR Assistant Secretary Analiza Teh, representing Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje, said the ZBO will seek to encourage students to be more innovative in promoting a cleaner environment. “Schools are cradles for values formation, and we cannot overstate their importance in fostering environmental principles in our youth. They will thus provide the best channels to implement the principles of ecological solid waste management,” she said.

On her part, EDNP chair and former DENR Secretary Elisea Gozun appreciated the opportunity to once again partner with the government in promoting environmental citizenship. “The ZBO will help inculcate in our youth the idea of considering every day as Earth Day,” she said.

Under the MOA, the EDNP will act as the project manager and national secretariat coordinator for the ZBO. The DepEd and CHED will disseminate its mechanics to all academic institutions and attached agencies, including media promotions. The CHED will also provide funding assistance to any champion who will submit an innovative Action Grant Proposal.

Meanwhile, the DENR will serve as secretariat of the Philippine Association of Tertiary Level Educational Institutions in Environmental Protection and Management (PATLEPAM) to get the support from member schools, as well as assist in information dissemination.

Representatives from the DENR, DepEd and CHED will also form a Regional Validation Committee which will review and shortlist qualifiers; conduct site visits; evaluate and finalize results based on criteria; and declare the respective winners. The committee may also select “With Very High Honors” awardees, or nominate one best entry per category to the Secretariat.

The ZBO will actually boost the academic sector’s implementation of two landmark environmental laws: RA 9003, and RA 9512 or the Environmental Awareness and Education Act of 2008. Prior to the enactment of RA 9003, the DepEd had already launched its own “War on Waste” program to promote the practice of reusing, reducing, and recycling waste.

The ZBO will also complement the on-going 2011 National Search for Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Schools, which the DENR launched in September last year and whose awarding will be in November 2011.