According to the American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) “Greening at the Grass Roots: School Recycling” publication, schools and other education facilities often generate the most waste. What’s most often wasted varies from district to district, but the National Wildlife Federation estimates that paper accounts for upwards of 60 percent of school waste. A Minnesota Pollution Control Agency study cites food waste as its biggest culprit, coming in at 23.9 percent of total waste. And the AFT says 15 percent of all school waste comes from glass and plastic beverage bottles.
We can all do a little more to reduce, reuse and recycle both at home and at school. This e-newsletter offers simple steps you can take to improve your school’s recycling program and gain buy-in from students, teachers and support staff.
- Step one—Assemble a team: Create a team of students, teachers and other staff to spearhead your efforts. Your team can get started by researching the types of recycling available in your area, then evaluating your school’s current recycling efforts. Armed with this information, your team can begin conducting a waste audit.
- Step two—Conduct a waste audit: Ask your team to survey classrooms, school grounds, teachers’ lounges, cafeterias and any other place waste is generated. This may be a great time to enlist those not on your team for help. Waste should be broken down into types (e.g. paper, aluminum cans, bottles, food) so you know which recycling programs are needed most and in which locations.
- Step three—Implement and kick off your program: The waste audit will help drive your program and its goals. Once everything is in place, kick off the program with a promotion that reveals your plans to the entire school. Posters or banners (made out of recycled or scrap materials) that outline important recycling information, such as what can be recycled and where, should be hung in high-visibility areas. Morning announcements or school radio public-service announcements (PSAs) can help broadcast your new-and-improved efforts. Post important program details online, and then imprint your website’s URL on a recycled magnet to be placed on student lockers and in staff mailboxes.
- Step four—Hold a contest: Task your green team with holding compliance contests. Rewards can be issued for departments, classrooms, grade levels or even individuals who are meeting or exceeding your new recycling requirements. School-logo’d sweatshirts or a “Little Green Guide” to recycling are great ecologically responsible prizes.Or hold a contest or challenge to generate new ideas. Challenge your student body or staff to come up with novel ideas to reduce waste or reuse what you’ve got. You never know what types of ideas may come in. For instance, Artesia, Calif. teacher Fran Delaney Barron, after seeing how much lunch food was going to waste, developed a sharing table where good, untouched food could be placed for others to take. She also later implemented a similar concept for school supplies where, at the end of the year, leftover supplies were collected and distributed for use by students and classrooms the following year.
- Step five—Live it: There’s nothing worse than not practicing what you preach. In order to gain buy-in, be sure your school is cutting its own wasteful practices. For instance, provide syllabi or other classroom materials on USB drives or online instead of on paper. Provide staff and students with reusable snack and lunch bags or water bottles in exchange for promises to quit using the throw-away versions.
Remember, every little bit helps. The more we can do to reduce, reuse and recycle, the better. Let’s all do our part to shape our students’ futures by making sure there’s a healthy planet waiting for them when they’re older.
“School Waste Study.” –Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. N.p., 23 Oct. 2014. Web. Retrieved 30 June 2015.