The story of disposable face masks – video claims top prize in the EPA’s The Story of Your Stuff 2021 competition

A video that creatively examines the environmental life cycle of disposable face masks has won the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) The Story of Your Stuff 2021 competition. This year’s competition received a record number of entries, with over 300 submissions from schools across the country.

Now in its fifth year, the competition hinges on story-telling around real environmental challenges and brings together curiosity, creativity and science.  Students are encouraged to consider the challenges to our environment, and contemplate how we might tackle them through modification of production and consumption practices for the everyday ‘stuff’ in our lives.  They are encouraged to use the EPA’s national information portal  as a main source of information.

It taps into the skillset that our young people have for imagery and short video communication suitable for social media platforms. In thinking about climate action and environmental protection, it encourages participants to spread the word about sustainability among their friends and family and make lasting and impactful changes.

The winning entry was created by Robert Urquhart from Presentation College Athenry in Galway. Robert’s very topical ‘Story of Disposable Face Masks’ uses excellent hand-drawn illustrations as well as strong scripting and narration to look at the manufacture and use of disposable face masks. As the overall competition winner, Robert claims the top prize of €500, along with €500 for his school.

Commenting, Dr Jonathan Derham of the EPA and chair of the judging panel, said:

“This year saw a record number of entries from schools across the country to the EPA’s The Story of Your Stuff competition. This response reflects the commitment and interest of Irish young people to tackling climate and environmental issues on their terms and in a meaningful way. Part of the storytelling craft is to relate these challenges to how we live, consume and behave – making it real – and the winners have very successfully achieved this.  There are solutions and alternatives that we could all embrace.”

The winners were announced at a virtual finale and showcase event on 21st April at which Dr Norah Patten, competition ambassador and candidate-astronaut, delivered an inspirational address. The event was hosted by the EPA and held in partnership with the UCD Earth Institute and attendees also heard from representatives of the EPA and UCD.

‘The Story of Face Masks’by Keisha Abdulhaman from Sion Hill Dominican College, Blackrock, Co. Dublin won second prize and ‘The Story of Disposable Cutlery’ by Julia Wojtysiak from Le Cheile Secondary School, Tyrrelstown, Dublin 15 placed third.

The prize winners for the climate topic and Irish-language awards were:

  • Irish-language prize: Rebecca Ni Challanain and Kate Ni Mhathuna from Gaelcholaiste Charraig Ui Leighin, Carrigaline, Co. Cork for their entry, ‘Scéal Lipéad Crochadh’which looks at clothing labels.

Competition ambassador, citizen candidate-astronaut and award-winning STEM advocate, Dr Norah Patten said:

“As a STEM advocate, I believe strongly in the need for environmental issues to be distilled into accessible language and presented in an engaging way to drive behaviour change for a more sustainable planet. This year’s shortlisted entrants demonstrated this ability in spades, and I wish to congratulate each one of them for getting this far. With so much uncertainty in the world, it is comforting to know there is a generation of young people able and willing to put their creativity to use in telling a compelling story on the need to make more environmentally conscious decisions.”

Director of the UCD Earth Institute, Professor Tasman Crowe said:

“Albeit virtually, it was fantastic to speak to the shortlisted entrants of this year’s The Story of Your Stuff competition, an initiative that aligns closely with the mission of the UCD Earth Institute, to find sustainable solutions to urgent environmental challenges. I hope the video demonstrations of innovative research being undertaken at UCD will inspire others to take up the challenge and perhaps come and join us at UCD.”

You can view the winning entries at

About ‘The Story of Your Stuff’: ‘The Story of Your Stuff’ is a nationwide competition for secondary school students run by the EPA. The competition challenges students to investigate the life cycle of their everyday ‘stuff’ through a creative medium, considering the entirety of the item’s life cycle. The EPA’s Ireland’s Environment website,,  has a range of resources to assist students’ research. Visit for competition guidelines and tips and follow TSOYS on Instagram @EPAIreland and @storyofyourstuff.

The finale event
The virtual finale and showcase event was hosted by the EPA and held in partnership with the UCD Earth Institute. Attendees heard from representatives of the EPA and UCD, and from competition ambassador and candidate-astronaut, Dr Norah Patten, who delivered an inspirational address. Students also enjoyed video demonstrations of research being undertaken at UCD.

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