Editor’s note: We came across a post by Kelly Wilson who’s an editor for Teaching Resource Center. While she comes at environmental responsibility from more of an economic and efficiency perspective, she’s written a nice practical piece for students interested in campus conservation. She does a nice job establishing that living frugally and efficiently grows directly out of the first practical steps that students can take as they work to help their schools consume less and become better environmental stewards.
In schools around the country, green has joined red, yellow and blue as a primary color as people have become more active recyclers.
Implementing a recycling program to help green your school is easier than you think. Here are some easy steps to get started!
Get Everyone Involved
There’s a great chance that students and adults involved in your school community are interested in seeing your school become more green.
First, do some research regarding what recycling activities are already happening in your school. When I first began exploring my school community’s recycling activities, I discovered that paper, cardboard, cans and bottles, and food wrappers were regularly recycled. I wrote a list of staff members, parents and volunteers who had helped organize these efforts.
After taking my list to the principal, I received permission to form a group to implement more green activities. Where did I start? I began contacting the list of people who had already helped with past recycling efforts. Meet with these interested people first so you don’t have to work alone, and implement green changes as soon as you can. Word about your efforts will spread and more people will join you!
I recently took a trip to downtown Seattle, and one of my first observations was their excellent recycling opportunities in public places. For example, in restaurants, there are separate bins for cans, bottles, paper, and plastic recycling along with a place to separate compostable leftovers from what ends up in the garbage.
One of simplest ways to begin recycling is offering separate bins in the cafeteria, staff room and classrooms for a variety of recyclable materials. Find large, durable bins and place them where food is consumed on campus. Clearly label them with what needs to go in each bin, along with pictures of products.
You may need to spend some time training your school population about this change. After meeting with the principal and staff members, try setting up one bin each week – start with aluminum cans or paper recycling. Hang out in the cafeteria by the bins and hand out small rewards for students you see using the bins, like pencils, stickers or temporary tattoos. Pretty soon, kids and staff members will automatically be using all of the bins you provide.
Terracycle is a wonderful organization that partners with schools to “upcycle” juice pouches and food wrappers. School and non-profit groups receive “cash for [their] trash” when they send in the required materials.
The great thing about this program is that it’s easy to get started. There are Terracycle Brigades, and you register for the one you want to focus on. One of the parents at our school started with collecting drink pouches from kids.
If you decide to participate in a brigade, you’ll need to provide incentives for kids to bring in what you’re collecting. Set up a system that works for you, like setting up a bin in the cafeteria specifically for drink pouches. Each week, give a small prize to students who bring in drink pouches in a Ziploc bag labeled with their names.
If you want to boost your collection, seek out businesses that may already be collecting the items you’re looking for. Our Terracycle parent found out that a local party place for kids was willing to donate juice pouches to our school as long as someone picked them up. That’s easy “cash for your trash”!
Cafeteria Worm Bin
Worms are effective, low-maintenance recyclers, and provide excellent real-life learning opportunities for students. Worms eat garbage; more accurately, worms eat natural waste, poop it out, and create an incredibly nutrient-rich soil to use in our gardens. Their needs are simple – air, darkness, warmth, a little water, and waste material – and easy to provide. They can be kept in a small bin, aquarium or box lined with heavy plastic that fits well in a classroom environment.
You can find more information about building and maintaining a worm bin at “Managing a Classroom Worm Bin.” For the cafeteria, start very small. Get one pound of worms and work with the cafeteria staff to set aside appropriate scraps for the bin. Once you feel comfortable with this project, you can enlist the help of a few older, responsible students to help.
But what can you do with all of that valuable worm poop? Use it in a School or Community Garden.
This sounds like a huge task, and I’m not going to lie to you – it is. It takes a committed group of staff members, parents, and volunteers as well as donations of materials from local companies.
If you’re not ready to jump into creating a garden, start with a simple compost pile. Use the food scraps from your school’s cafeteria and staff room that don’t go into the worm bin. A compost pile is easy to maintain – what goes in the pile is basically the same as what goes in a worm bin. And if you don’t have a garden yet for the compost you create, there are plenty of people who will gladly take it.
Helping to green your school may feel overwhelming, but be encouraged! Any change you implement will be well worth the time and effort required.