I was chatting with someone the other day who was giving me a hard time about being overly eco-friendly. For the record: I don’t think that most people would be willing to call me ‘overly’ eco-friendly (though I definitely try!), and I think that this person thought that the city composting program that I was talking about was ‘gross’ (she’s not really a get-your-hands-dirty kind of person). But it got me thinking – for many of us, being at least somewhat earth friendly is a part of our day. We do things like recycle, turn off the lights when we leave, and turn the water off when we brush our teeth. Not everything earth-friendly needs to be a huge lifestyle change full of upheaval.
So how can teachers make their classrooms more ‘green’ this year? I’ll give you a hint: paint isn’t the answer. There are lots of small changes in the classroom and fun activities for the students to participate in that will help keep your classroom green and help your students understand how to take better care of their planet!
I’m not talking about throwing away food! Packaging waste accounts for about 30% of all trash each year. Encourage students and parents to pack lunches that include reusable packaging. Jon from Green Lifestyle Changes offers a great post on his site about packing ‘disposable free’ kids’ lunches.
Since not all students will bring a zero-waste lunch, teachervision offers this great printable showing students what should be recycled and how to separate the waste, along with some more tips for packing a waste-free lunch.
Ok, so I tried to think of a different term so as not to overuse the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” quote, but the word really does work for what I’m trying to get at here: Reduce the amount of stuff you use in your classroom. With so much technology, paper is much less of an issue than it used to be. If you can do it electronically, do it! Communicate with your students and their parents electronically. Make your bulletin boards from creatively upcycled items or reused items from previous boards. For classrooms with younger students, use items that might traditionally be thrown away for things like art projects.
Who knew pens and pencils – staples of school life- could be such an environmental beast? Kim McKay notes in her book True Green @ Work that Americans buy upwards of 5.1 billion pens every year. Disposable pens and pencils add 770 tons of plastic trash to landfills each year. Make your classroom a place where refillable pens made from recycled plastic or biodegradable plastic created from corn starch and pencils made from sustainably harvested wood, recycled paper or reclaimed denim are the norm.
Not all schools recycle, and many only recycle paper. Instead of just going with the flow of what the school is doing, make your classroom a recycle zone. Make some posters and promote your classroom recycling. For younger students, getting them involved in creating their own recycling center in the classroom is a great activity to get them interested and understanding what recycling is all about. Including a craft bin for potential art materials is an easy way to reuse things that might otherwise just end up in the recycling. For older students, give them some guidelines at the beginning of the year and remind them as necessary throughout the school year.
While the type of lightbulbs and amount of insulation in your classroom is generally not within your control, how you use your classroom every day is. If you have the option, use compact fluorescent lightbulbs where you can. Switch off the overhead lights and lift the shades to bring in natural light. You can inquire with your school about getting motion detector lights which automatically shut off when no one is in the room, but at the least, make sure to shut the lights off when you leave!
With lots of technology in our classrooms, energy use is inevitable. And most of us are using more technology in an effort to reduce paper waste. Maximizing what you’re using is key with such a large number of students and teachers. When you do have to print, make sure you print double sided, and use the ‘less ink’ options for all but the most important printing. Make sure you’re taking advantage of any energy saving computer settings, and use smart power strips to keep your idle electronics from eating too much electricity. If your classroom is well lit by natural light, you can even put together a solar powered science activity!
Next time, we’ll look at a few ideas on how to get your entire school involved in some earth-friendly activities!
Are you doing anything ‘green’ in your classroom? We’d love to hear what it is!