Every parent of school-age kids has a similar shopping list this month: Pencils, glue sticks, highlighters, notebooks, dry-erase markers, crayons, sharpies and erasable pens... and don't forget the earbuds and iPad stylus. Most items are not recyclable, or biodegrable, and represent just a fraction of the resources that go into educating kids.
Schools create a surprising amount of waste, considering both the energy used and the dumpsters filled. The American Federation of Teachers reports that the average school generates 45 to 90 pounds of waste per student, annually. Waste audits estimate 23% comes from food waste, up to 40% from paper and cardboard, and 15% from beverage bottles.
Nationwide, new schools are built to higher efficiency standards, but inefficient heating and cooling still weigh down school budgets. According to the U.S. Office of Energy, K-12 schools spend over $6 billion on energy annually—more textbooks and computers.
In Central Oregon, improvements in resource use and waste reduction are underway across the Bend-La Pine Schools district. Efforts range from transportation to food service to building maintenance, led by administration, nonprofits and students.
The Green School movement
Shrinking a school's carbon footprint involves retrofitting older buildings with new technology. BLPS is replacing traditional lighting with efficient LED lights, school by school. Expected savings from lowering energy use adds up to $10,000 per school, according to Alandra Johnson, communication specialist for the district. "The money saved by efficient lighting can be used in the classroom, instead of for utility bills," she said.
Much of the waste reduction stems from the schools' Green Teams, a project of Oregon Green Schools. More than 20 Green Teams were active in BLPS last year, and 16 schools were certified at Green or Merit levels by Oregon Green Schools. Certification lasts for three school years, with specific tasks to complete along the way.
Jackie Wilson, at The Environmental Center in Bend, coordinates local Green Teams, made up of students and faculty advisors. "Teams patrol the school to be sure lights and equipment are shut down, and check on recycling. They take ownership of the program," said Wilson.
Green Teams also check classroom floors each afternoon as part of the Clean Sweep program, picking up pencils and recyclables that would otherwise be swept into the trash. "Not only do they learn more about wasted resources, they develop school pride," Wilson explained.
Less waste at lunchtime
The first step for Green School certification requires students to complete a food waste audit, to analyze what food is thrown away. Often this process leads to a "No Thank You" table, where students can return unwanted food, instead of throwing it away.
A typical school disposes of about 10,000 plastic forks or spoons annually. But local elementary schools are phasing out plastic utensils, starting this year, and three schools now use washable dishware instead of disposable plates.
School kitchens prepare breads, soups and sauces in-house, which cuts down on packaging. Some schools, including William E. Miller Elementary, Westside Village Magnet at Kingston School, REALMS Middle School and Cascade Middle School, have food composting programs in place.
Cafeteria trash cans also fill with plastic from disposable lunch bags and plastics. A typical school disposes of about 10,000 plastic forks or spoons annually, according to Wilson. But local elementary schools are phasing out plastic utensils, starting this year, and three schools now use washable dishware instead of disposaeble plates. And instead of using disposables for classroom parties, teachers can access sets of reusable plates, utensils and cups for the day. These sets were purchased through a grant from The Environmental Center.
Walking school buses
Making education energy efficient also includes transportation. Walking school buses, organized by Commute Options, provide supervised walking groups to and from school. Twelve routes offer paid adult leaders who also serve as liaisons in the schools. Students outside the 1-mile perimeter can be dropped off and picked up at the routes' starting points, so they can join a walking bus.
"It's a great start to the day for kids—the groups are fun and social, and kids get some exercise along the way," said Kersey Marion of Commute Options. "Our goal is to shrink the line of cars dropping off one student." Marion encourages parents to use carpools, buses, or bike with students.
Making school supplies more sustainable
The most eco-friendly supplies are the ones families already own, so making the process more sustainable includes gathering items left over from the last school year. Eco-friendly products such as cardboard binders, or pencil highlighters, instead of the plastic versions, can fill in the gaps. Reusable lunch containers can further reduce a child's footprint, as well as washing and reusing plastic bags.
A new initiative from Crayola keeps plastic markers out of the waste stream. Schools can collect up to 10 pounds of any brand of used markers and ship the box free of charge to Crayola for repurposing.
Oregon Green Schools
Crayola ColorCycle program