Schools across the country are going green as they recognize the value of their role as community leaders in waste reduction and in teaching youth to be good stewards of the Earth. Simply buying products made from recycled plastic uses 75 percent less energy than making it from raw materials, and pulls it from the waste stream, where it can take anywhere from 100 to 400 years to break down in a landfill, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Pencils and Pens
Some of the most basic school supplies are often overlooked in a going green strategy: pens and pencils. In the book "True Green @ Work," author Kim McKay notes that Americans buy upwards of 5.1 billion pens every year, mostly the disposable type that contribute 770 tons of plastic trash to landfills each year. Opt for refillable pens made from recycled plastic or biodegradable plastic created from corn starch. Select pencils made from sustainably harvested wood, recycled paper or reclaimed denim.
Plants are nature's air filters and adding a few to your classroom will absorb computer radiation and airborne pollutants. They also provide you and your students with fresh oxygen and cooler air, through transpiration. McKay points to research indicating that indoor plants significantly reduce fatigue and incidences of cold-related ailments like sore throats and coughs. Shade-loving plants like ivies, ferns, spider plants and philodendrons can grow near windows and under fluorescent lighting. (See References 2)
School gardens are a great way to teach children and families about the pleasures of growing and eating fresh, local, organic food. Invite gardening-savvy parents in for classroom presentations and to consult on garden setup. Study the strategies and success of the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley, California. Started by Chef Alice Waters, this 1-acre garden and kitchen involves middle school students in growing, harvesting and preparing food. The curriculum also includes the study of food systems. (See References 3)
Cut the Packaging
All those individually-wrapped juice boxes, snacks and lunch items generate a lot of trash. The EPA estimates that waste from packaging accounts for 30 percent of all the trash generated in a year. Study and chart the solid waste currently generated by your classroom and target areas for reduction. Invite parents' involvement as you spend two weeks focused on lowering waste generation. Study and chart your results and take the information on the road. Publish in the school e-newspaper and make presentations to other classrooms, the PTA and the school board. (See References 4)
Take the Pledge
Publicly commit your school to being green. The Green Schools Initiative is a non-profit started by parents dedicated to making a difference in the environmental health of their children's school. Their "Green Schools Pledge" includes free e-newsletters with tips on being green and stories of other schools' efforts. (See References 5) GreenSchoolsAlliance.org has two "Climate Commitment Pledges" that outline school-wide carbon footprint reductions (see References 6).
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Appendix M -- Factoids
- "True Green @ Work;" Kim McKay, et al.; 2008
- The Edible Schoolyard: Welcome to the Edible Schoolyard, 2010
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Tips for a Waste-Less School Year, 2010
- Green Schools Initiative: About Us
- Green Schools Alliance: Green Your School, 2009
Suzanna Didier's work appears in online publications including the National Geographic website, SFGate and Local.com. She is an avid cook who lives on a hobby farm, direct-markets organic produce to local restaurants and has taught at the preschool, elementary and college levels. Didier holds a Master of Arts in education from the University of Oregon.
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