I pride myself on living a pretty “green” life and having a relatively low carbon footprint. I eat a mostly vegetarian diet, I am a member of a local CSA, I drive a Prius, and I always bring my reusable produce bags and shopping bags to the farmers market or store. I even purchase carbon offsets for long distance travel and recently bought a GuppyFriend bag to stop microplastics from entering the oceans when I wash my clothes. So when I started reading Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson, I was expecting to feel pretty smug, and I wasn’t expecting to make many major changes to my daily life. It didn’t take long for me to realize, though, that there is MUCH more I can do to reduce my impact on the planet. Specifically, there is a lot of room for improvement in my work life, aka in my classroom. So, with this in mind, I will be engaging my students in a Zero Waste Classroom Challenge in 2019.
Why do it?
- Better for the planet
- Modeling sustainable behavior for kids, which they will hopefully then pass on to their families and spheres of influence
- Saves money
- Can eventually eliminate large bulky trash can, thus creating more space in our classroom
What we’re already doing:
- Using cloth dish towels instead of paper towels to dry hands
- Using scratch paper for art, drawing, book marks, tests, worksheets, etc.
- Investing in higher quality materials (e.g. folders, book boxes, supply bags) and reusing them every year rather than buying new sets for each class
- Sourcing used items for flexible seating (thank you Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and Nextdoor!)
- Recycling dried out markers through the Crayola Color Cycle program
- Encouraging students to bring snack/lunch in reusable containers
- Book hospital- repairing broken/torn books rather than replacing them
- Thinking twice before printing (Can I submit a form electronically? Can I take a picture of it on my phone instead of printing it?)
- Using old Tupperware/food containers for math manipulatives, science projects, etc. rather than buying new
- Donating old materials/rugs/furniture instead of throwing them out (offer first to other teachers in the building, then to the public) and the opposite: asking others for something we need before buying it
- Laminating posters I will reuse every year, writing on both sides of chart paper, and only tearing off the exact size I need from a new sheet of chart paper
- Using the library as much as possible to avoid buying new books
- Opening curtains and shades to maximize natural light and avoid turning on the overhead lights (this has the added benefit of lowering stress and keeping kids calm)
What I want to do in the future:
- Not buy a class set of math workbooks each year. Instead, I will buy one master copy and make copies of the pages we actually need/will use (also helps with storage/resource management!).
- Replace plastic markers with crayon, then recycle the unusable remnants with the Crayon Initiative
- Use compostable unpainted pencils like these
- Eliminate (or reduce as much as possible) Amazon or online deliveries– buy local and without packaging
- Stop getting Scholastic Book Order fliers– shop online only
And, of course, I want to hear from you! Have you tried reducing your classroom’s waste stream? What has worked and what hasn’t? Any words of wisdom? Let me know on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or email!