When you send your kids back to school this year, make sure that reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic aren't the only three "R's" you're teaching them. The Oregon Resource Efficiency Program has estimated that each student produces up to 240 pounds of waste a year. When you consider the nearly 75.5 million students who attend school in the United States-well, you can do the math.
Aside from putting your multiplication skills to the test, these numbers highlight the extent to which our nation's schools are contributing to landfill waste-and show just how critical it is that the other three "R's" be put into practice in classrooms. Not only will teaching kids to reduce, reuse and recycle cut down on waste, but it will help them form eco-savvy habits that will last a lifetime.
What a Waste
So where is all this waste coming from?
- Paper. Every ton, or 220,000 sheets, of paper that is recycled saves approximately 17 trees. The average school tosses 38 tons of paper-more than 8 million sheets-a year!
- Food. Just one elementary school creates 18,760 pounds of lunch waste per year. At the same time, the childhood obesity rate is higher than ever; about 9 million kids over the age of six are now considered obese. How does that affect the environment? 67% of kids say they buy junk food or soda from vending machines at school-which means more packaging and more waste.
- Energy. Schools use more than $6 billion in energy every year, with 25%, or about $1.5 billion, of it wasted because of inefficiency. That alone would be enough money to hire about 30,000 new teachers!
Go Green, Save Green
Although you may not be able to control the temperature of your child's classroom or the school's waste program, there is still plenty that you and your kids can do to practice conservation. What's more, the things Rogers recommends are small, manageable changes that won't take too much time-or break the bank.
Packing a "waste-free" lunch, for example, saves not only packaging, but also the money you would have spent on a year's worth of plastic baggies and other disposable containers. Walking, carpooling and riding a bike to school are also good for your wallet and for the environment.
Walk. Only 31% of kids who live less than a mile away from school walk there. Half go by car. If just 6% of those who go by car walked, it would save 60 thousand gallons of gasoline a day!
Carpool. On a typical day, the average mom spends 66 minutes driving, making more than five trips to and from home and covering 29 miles. If having your kids walk to school isn't an option, carpooling is a great way to save both time and gas money.
- Textbooks. Buy textbooks used, and sell them back when you're done with them. The money saved by recycling 1% of the schoolbooks sold every year could send more than 4,000 students to a four-year public college.
- Paper. Opt for wire-bound notebooks with at least 20% post-consumer fiber, buy recycled loose-leaf paper, and avoid paper that contains chlorine.
- Pens. Use refillable pens. Every year Americans discard 1.6 billion pens, whose components and packaging are made from nonrenewable resources that can contain environmentally harmful chemicals.
- Pencils. Use pencils made from recycled material and packed in recycled packaging. Pencils can be made from all sorts of things that would otherwise end up in our waste stream.
- Paper clips. Reuse your paper clips. For every 100,000 paper clips produced, only 20,000 are used to hold together paper-the rest aren't being used!
It has been estimated that a typical American kid who takes a disposable lunch to school generates 67 pounds of discarded packaging waste per school year. That adds up to more than 18,000 pounds yearly for the average-sized elementary school.