This month we’re discussing greening your school. Anyone can (and should) audit their school. While technically it’s best to encourage your school to run their own green audits, you and your child can do some green audits of your own and then suggest changes to your school.
One of the biggest problems schools have is material waste. Paper waste, supply waste and related school materials are a huge burden on the environment.
Here are some things to look for…
- How much paper is used on a daily basis in just one classrooms alone? Count the pieces of paper used by a student along with the paper handed out by the teacher. Times that by the number of students in the class. Now times it by the number of kids in the entire school – is the number staggering? One report notes that a school in New York, in just one year, used 28 pounds of paper per each student and teacher in the school.
- Are both sides of paper utilized? This means that homework assignments, worksheets, art paper, and teacher handouts. One fun experiment for kids is to ask the entire class to simply make a pile of all the paper used in class after one week. Imagine how big that pile will be.
- Is any of the paper used at school recycled or made with recycled content to start with?
- How is paper recycled at your school. Are there bins available in each classroom? The school office, the library and in common areas?
- Are there still paper towels in your bathrooms? A better choice for public spaces are air dryers, but not all schools have them.
- How is school mailing handled? Does your school really need weekly newsletters sent out to all parents or would an email newsletter work?
- How is packaging handled? All school lunch stuff and supplies arrive in packaging. Is that packaging recycled?
- Guess what – we haven’t even mentioned text books yet. How much more paper do you think all those text books create?
The best solution for paper waste is to use less paper, use recycled content paper, use up the paper you have and to recycle all paper products.
Composting school lunch food can reduce landfill use, nourish school gardens and teach useful learning concepts to kids. Most schools toss school food and old snacks but it’s so easy to compost that it’s a shame more schools don’t.
School lunch waste:
Waste from school lunches may include food (as noted above) but can also include things like juice boxes, aluminum cans, plastic food containers and more. Take a look at what your school uses to make lunch then make sure each item has a recycling bin – for example, all cans are recycled.
We don’t often think of water as a waste issue – but it is a huge waste issue in most schools. Ask these questions to see how much water your school wastes…
- Are there leaky sinks or urinals or toilets in the bathroom?
- Does the school run the water sprinklers on the lawn during the day? For how long? Is water gushing down the sidewalk or actually benefiting the grass?
- How many loads of laundry and dishes is the school running per day? How many water efficient appliances are used to wash stuff up?
- Are kids taught about water conservation techniques, such as making sure the water is all the way off after washing their hands?
Water waste can be solved with maintenance first and foremost – for example all those leaky sinks. Water waste can also be reduced by using water efficient appliances in the school cafeteria and by simply making folks more aware of how much water is wasted daily.
Supply and electronic waste:
If your school no longer needs desks or computers what happens to this stuff? Is it recycled, given to other schools? Sold? Hopefully all of the above. Many schools simply toss old furniture and electronics and that’s a huge waste. Every school needs a successful electronic recycling program and a way to sustainably get rid of old furniture and other supplies.
For each problem found in a green school audit there is also a solution. Waste is an easy issue to fix. It’s not only cost effective to reduce waste but fun and can even be incorporated into the school curriculum. In order to fix waste issues at your school parents and kids should…
- Encourage schools to develop a recycling program for all waste.
- Encourage schools to use less stuff overall. For example, kids can share crayons (and other supplies) – each kid doesn’t need their own huge box. In fact, kids can even share textbooks.
- Encourage schools to institute a recycled products purchasing policy.
- Encourage schools to purchase water efficient appliances.
- Encourage schools to compost.
Solutions to school waste:
- Learn how your school can institute a Web 2.0 paperless school governance solution.
- Tips on reducing paper waste in schools.
- Help your school office to collect unwanted junk mail and contact the companies to get off their junk mail lists.
- How to reduce, recycle and reuse in the school cafeteria.
- Make sure waste reduction is on the student curriculum or even consider helping to start a school waste reduction campaign or club with students. Kids who are a part of the waste solution won’t waste as much and a fun eco-club is a great way to get kids involved.
- Composting in schools.
- Water conservation in schools – a massive list of links, books, and journal articles on water efficiency, water recycling, and plumbing issues in school buildings and grounds from the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities.
- Place recycling bins everywhere – and make sure even little kids know which bin is which.
- Hold a recycling competition among classes to encourage student participation.
- Back to School Waste Prevention.
- Learn how your school can gain national recognition by implementing a waste reduction program through initiatives such as EPA’s WasteWise program.
- The EPA’s Tools to Reduce School Waste report (pdf), consists of many useful tips, among them, 10 Steps for Becoming Waste-Free.
- Recycled supplies for schools.