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Environmental Problems in Schools and How to Address Them

Jane Marsh - April 2, 2021

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Environmental awareness is increasing all around the world. This normalization of green thinking has formed a shift in the education system. Classes that address eco-friendliness are now present in many schools’ curriculum. However, are these establishments practicing what they preach?

Schools affect the environment in four fundamental ways. Food waste, general waste management, energy use, and water management contribute to an education establishment’s sustainability. If one handles these four regions appropriately, a school can promote green practices to limit its footprint. When these areas are neglected, they can cause significant environmental issues.

By evaluating a school’s management of certain features, one can approach sustainability obstacles with practical solutions. Informing staff, educators, and students of these environmental problems in schools and offering solutions can allow community efforts to lead green practices.

Food Waste

Over half of the trash produced by schools comes from the cafeteria. This adds up to $5 million in food waste produced every day. An educational establishment’s inadequate food disposal impacts environmental degradation and a school’s budget. By reducing food waste, schools could contribute to environmental conservation and save money.

Food waste is more than simply throwing away a nutritional resource. When you dispose of uneaten products, you are contributing to unnecessary transportation waste from carbon emissions. Some of the foods we purchase are outsourced from countries with environmentally destructive practices — these nations over-farm and cause soil depletion. Disposal of adequate food supports these avoidable forms of environmental degradation.

Schools can challenge food waste production by following the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) food recovery hierarchy. This method suggests limiting disposal by reducing the amount of food cooked, donating to soup kitchens, reusing excess for animal feed, donating oils for industrial use, composting, and disposing of food in the garbage as a last resort.

Educational establishments can utilize this EPA method by:

  • Creating a menu form for kids to fill out regarding tomorrow’s lunch.
  • Developing a shared food table for uneaten goods.
  • Crafting an on-site compost.
  • Donating to local soup kitchens biweekly.

General Waste Management

A lack of education regarding recycling and waste management has created a challenge for school sustainability. Students throw away plastic bottles, and teachers dispose of extra materials they could donate. These regressive practices can shift with awareness and resources brought into the classroom.

There are various ways schools can reduce their waste and dispose of it responsibly. They can:

  • Craft an assortment of disposal bins for different materials to better inform staff and students of proper waste management.
  • Develop a recycling and waste management club that features informative presentations by students.
  • Create mandatory waste management training for staff.
  • Email parents rather than sending home pamphlets and slips to reduce paper use.
  • Donate extra materials to thrift stores and supply drives.
  • Use secondhand materials rather than buying new ones every year.

By implementing awareness education and sustainable waste practices, the classroom can become a greener place. Students like to put their knowledge to work in the real world, so including them in these processes will aid in learning and community development. Sorting is also a fun practice that keeps students engaged in the classroom.

Energy Use

Schools spend over $6 billion a year on energy. They spend more money on power than textbooks and other teaching materials. Most of this energy use is coming from devices that are not needed for learning.

Electronic devices in the classroom drive excess energy use and disrupt students’ focus. Many children retain information more adequately using a pencil and paper than a projector and a laptop. By limiting the energy use in schools, you can aid in deep learning, save money, and conserve the environment.

To reduce energy use in schools, one can:

  • Turn off the lights when a room is not occupied or rely on natural lighting.
  • Set the thermostat to an energy-efficient temperature and encourage the community to wear warm clothes in the winter.
  • Install energy-efficient lightbulbs.
  • Use the school budget to install solar panels.

Water Management

The United States is the second highest water-wasting country globally, mismanaging 216 gallons of water annually. Schools contribute to this by neglecting sustainability practices.

Educational establishments can account for nearly 10,000 gallons of wasted water each year. This water waste derives from worn toilet flappers, dripping taps, and leaky valves. To reduce unsustainable water practices, one can:

  • Place signs in school restrooms to remind staff and students to turn off the faucet and report leaks.
  • Have cleaning staff conduct weekly toilet checks to guarantee that all parts are functioning efficiently.
  • Check hoses and outdoor taps to ensure they’re working correctly without leaks.
  • Evaluate the school’s water bill to track leaks and usage.

Communication Is Key

Reaching out to staff and students can allow for environmental problems in schools to be addressed. Building a community that understands these issues will increase sustainability practices. When a community works together to create these changes, it saves the school money and conserves the environment.

About the author

Jane Marsh

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.