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Going Zero Waste: How Schools Can Reduce Waste and Save More

How to Teach Students to Go Green 

Schools across the country are striving to be zero waste and educating students, parents and the community along the way. Some examples of schools that have made strides toward achieving zero waste in their communities include Chester Upland School District in Philadelphia and Palo Alto Unified School District.

Why should your school go zero waste? For starters, it could lower your school’s disposal costs, leaving more funding for education. In many areas of the US, schools can even be rewarded with grants for going zero waste. But more importantly, your students will learn to care for the environment and pick up responsible waste management habits. 

Going zero waste won’t happen overnight. But with a few changes in your daily routine, your school can make a big difference. From the lunch room to the art room, follow these tips and ideas to reduce, reuse and recycle your way to zero at school.

Create a Zero Waste Lunchroom

According to Cafeteria Culture, New York City public schools threw away nearly 4.25 million Styrofoam trays every week before they were banned in 2013. Cutting Styrofoam is a great first step to eliminating waste in the cafeteria, but the lunchroom is home to a smorgasbord of other items that cannot be recycled or reused. Coupled with these other tips, you’ll soon have an eco-friendly lunchroom.

  • Start a compost pile (great for Science class!) behind the school to reduce food waste.
  • Serve lunch on reusable trays.
  • Use compostable plates.
  • Clean tables with reusable cloths.
  • Place recycling bins throughout the lunchroom.

Pack a Zero Waste Lunch

After tackling the cafeteria, focus on reducing the use of paper lunch bags, plastic sandwich bags, disposable silverware and pre-packaged foods. Encourage parents to follow these eco-friendly lunch packing tips.

  • Use a lunch box.
  • Pack meals in reusable lunch containers.
  • Bring stainless steel silverware.
  • Pack cloth napkins.
  • Compost biodegradable napkins in the compost pile.
  • Try to only pack as much food as your child will eat.
  • Encourage kids to bring home nonperishable, uneaten food.

Zero Waste Lunch

Start Recycling in the Art Room

Use recycled craft materials in the art room instead of purchasing new supplies. Gather items that would have otherwise gone to waste around the school to be used in future arts and crafts projects, such as:

  • Paper or cardboard scraps
  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Shoeboxes
  • Coffee cans
  • Milk jugs or cartons
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Egg cartons
  • Tissue boxes
  • Old magazines
  • Leaves or branches
  • Mismatched puzzle pieces
  • Glass jars and lids
  • Scrap wood
  • Recycled crayon pieces
  • Tin cans
  • Water bottles
  • Leftover wrapping paper

Zero Waste Classroom

Learn How to Reduce Paper Use in Your School

Paper is cut, folded, glued and folded hotdog or hamburger style in classrooms across the country. But once assignments are graded and returned, what happens to all of the paper? Well, it comprises about 35 percent of municipal solid waste and is the third largest industrial source of pollution, according to the Paperless Project. Here’s a few ideas for your classroom to save some trees:

  • Pass out personal whiteboards for in-class activities.
  • Print two-sided copies.
  • Use scrap paper.
  • Reuse printer paper.
  • Instruct students to print only necessary pages of a document.

You might also consider moving to a digital classroom model:

  • Switch to computerized testing.
  • Post notes, handouts and presentations online.
  • Create a blog for students to access homework assignments.
  • Use USB data sticks to store electronic documents.

Donate Before You Trash

Before you toss gently used school supplies, old books and computer equipment, research organizations or community groups near you that can put them to good use. For example, The Crayon Initiative recycles used or broken crayons into new ones and gives them to hospitalized children. 

Going zero waste is a collective effort that unifies students, parents and faculty to achieve a less wasteful community. From reducing paper use to packing a less wasteful lunch, these zero waste school initiatives will encourage students to live sustainably for years to come.

Is your school taking steps toward being zero waste? Let us know about it in the comments below!