Green America: Growing the Green Economy for People and the Planet

Making the Classroom a Teaching Tool for Sustainability
June 14, 2005

Schools can save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in waste fees, water bills, and electricity costs by adapting recycling and energy saving measures. They can also teach students an important lesson on the necessity of recycling and sustainability. Co-op America’s National Green Pages, a source of socially and environmentally responsible companies, can help teachers make their classroom into an interactive learning place for recycling, renewable energy, and sustainability awareness and provide guidance for schools looking to maximize their energy and resource conservation.

Recycling…Starting from Scratch

Each student in the United States disposes of approximately half a pound of waste at school per day according to Recycleworks (www.recycleworks.org). California school districts dispose of approximately 763,817 tons of waste per year, and paper makes up the largest component of all schools' waste. This waste represents a significant loss of natural resources and school funds as well as a threat to the environment and student and staff health. While many schools may already recycle, there are few that have comprehensive learning units for students that are focused on why the school recycles and what benefits come from living in co-existence with nature.

Adding a school-wide curriculum that teaches the importance of using resources wisely has hidden benefits like higher attendance and grades. Programs like school-wide recycling and environmental education nurture student achievement. One school in Raleigh, North Carolina installed daylighting, which is a system of using natural light in all common areas of the school. The installation saves the school $165,000 per year on electricity, and the natural light increased productivity in students so much that overall grades increased by 12% and the school rated first in attendance of students and staff of over 100 area schools.

To start your school on the sustainable path to success, finding a local recycling plant is the first step, and Co-op America makes it easy. There are over 15 recyclers listed in the Green Pages nationally which take product packaging like cardboard and Styrofoam packing, paper, and food containers like bottles and aluminum cans. Schools can start by signing up for a recycling program, and having an ‘opening day’ celebration that gets students excited about the things that recycling can do for them and their environment.

Recycling doesn’t have to stop at the basic paper-and-plastic level. When schools update equipment a lot of older items may be tossed in the trash due to being outdated or broken. Even after the lives of electronics are used up in schools, they can be useful elsewhere. The Throwplace and Reuse Opportunities, two Green Pages company listings that accept donations of hard-to-recycle items like electronics and computers to give to charities, non-profits, and women’s shelters nationally.

The Next Steps

While Recycling is usually only considered for paper and plastics, many other items can be recycled in different ways. For instance, teachers can also start a compost bin for food items to reduce waste. Compost is a mixture of perishable recycled products, and composting is a way to break down these items naturally for future use as a soil supplement. Anything from coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps, eggs, tea bags, and even old flowers or grass clippings from yard maintenance can be composted. Green Pages companies that carry composting bins and supplies nationally are GAIAM Real Goods and Gardener’s Supply Company. Both businesses have a variety of bins and starter supplies.

The best thing to use compost for is a student-run garden. These can be cheaply and easily started in any grass or dirt area that is close to the school, and they provide great environmental learning space for the students…as well as a fun way to spend the morning or afternoon!

By: Nicole French, Public Education and Media

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