Waste reduction is an important first step to reach a sustainable society. While this can be challenging to do at home or in the office, it can become even more challenging at school, where children and teenagers have an important part in the outcome.
So, how can we reduce waste in schools? You can consider methods like doing a waste audit, encourage no-waste lunches, having compost, going paperless, or using recycled paper. The list is long, so in the rest of the post, we will walk you through the whole list of the main actions you can take to reduce waste in schools.
Performing A Waste Audit
The first thing to do is to perform a waste audit. What is that exactly? Well, it’s essentially tracking where your waste is going. You don’t need to be doing this for too long – about a week should be enough. During this week, you need to do two things: encourage your students to only use that garbage can for waste disposal, and ask the janitor to not remove the trash for that week.
After that week is over, get yourself a giant plastic sheet, some rubber gloves or plastic grabber. On Wednesday and Friday of that same week, take the trash cans outside and empty them onto the sheet of plastic and begin sorting the items.
If the sheer smell of the waste didn’t gross people out, this process most likely will and this can be used as an incentive to take waste reduction seriously. The following week, begin discussing alternative methods for disposing waste.
Encourage No-Waste Lunches
In the US, about 30-40% of food is wasted. This is roughly 20 lbs of food per person per month. Of that 240 pounds, it’s estimated that school waste accounts for about 67 pounds of that waste.
Because so much of it is going to waste, the smarter thing to do is to encourage your students to be packing lunches themselves. This allows them to bring the things that they’d actually eat rather than toss out. On top of that, you also want to examine how your students are packing their lunches.
What I mean by this is if they’re bringing brown bags every time, that adds more waste. Instead, get them to bring a lunch box or containers that they can use many times. Having them instead of sandwiches and snacks will help reduce waste.
Install a Compost Station
Even if you’re packing lunches in an efficient manner, there is bound to be food some days that students will throw out. In some cases, it can be apple cores, peach pits, or a sandwich that gets dropped on the ground.
In those kinds of situations, it’s smart to have some kind of compost station. From all of that organic food waste, you can produce soil. You can then use that soil to either donate to a local garden or use it on the school’s property for their own benefit.
If by chance you don’t have the opportunity to set up composting, you can look into vermicomposting. It’s a type of composting that uses red wiggler worms and works wonders as an indoor composting station. This could also be a cool project that your students could manage as part of their Natural Science classes.
Nevertheless composting is a strong and solid method as the second largest component of landfills today is organics. By composting all of those organics, they’re less likely to be landing in landfills and emitting methane gas into the atmosphere.
Going Paperless (Or Using Less Paper)
Naturally, reducing how much of something you use is going to reduce waste overall. It’s good to keep that in mind, but you especially want to tackle this issue with regard to paper. In the US, each person uses about 660 lbs of paper every single year.
First of all, there is writing on both sides of the paper. Whether its scrap paper or printed off, you can reduce paper waste by doing that.
If you are using scrap paper, have a bin available for your staff and students where the paper has only been used on one side.
Another option is to encourage students to send assignments in through online documents or have them save documents on USB drives. Printing documents can be a pain, but also doesn’t have much benefit these days when we have computers literally everywhere. Leverage technology and read texts online.
You can also do the same thing with class notes, assignments, and even tests. Having them all online through computer programs can help with reducing waste. There is a lot that you can do with the basics like Microsoft Word and Excel.
Have Recycled Paper
Another alternative for paper that you can consider is having recycled paper. In North America, there are already paper-recycling programs in place, however there isn’t anything stopping you from having recycled paper in your classroom. It’s a fun project, and the recycled paper is ideal for making cards or making simple boxes.
Leveraging Reusable Items
On that note, being able to use items again and again can help a lot. This is big because so often we use a product once and then have it replaced with another disposable item. If you’re in the habit of using something on a regular basis, that item in particular should be a reusable item.
A good example of this is the lunch containers. However, there are many other things out there that can be reusable.
Some examples of other items are things like pens or batteries. Pen ink can be bought and you can reuse that same pen over and over again. You can invest in rechargeable batteries so you’re not throwing out so many batteries. Encourage your students to consider reusable items wherever they can.
Don’t Throw Something Away, Donate It
There are many local charities that are working to support the community where you live. Keeping this in mind is big as often when something doesn’t serve us any longer we throw it out. I would encourage you to not be so quick to toss something out as it could very well be used by someone else in some circumstances.
You can also encourage this mentality to your students and push them to donate through various ways. Saying it to your students helps for sure, but you can also set up a charity box where students can donate items they no longer need.
The final method I want to talk about is to simply educate your students about waste. A lot of these methods above open the doors to conversations about the environment and our own impact. That said, there are so many programs out there that can also show the impacts of waste as well.
One other big way you can educate students is by giving them assignments on the matter and get them to make presentations on the impacts of wasteful behavior.
Whether you try out one of these methods or every single one, you are making a difference in the students’ perception of the world and the environment. Through these methods, you can teach your students and others the importance of managing waste and helping out the planet.
If you liked this article and would like to learn a bit more about waste, be sure to check “How Can We Reduce Solid Waste?“. If you form part of a school and you are looking at being more sustainable, be sure to check “How Can We Conserve Water At School?“.