How to Green Your Classroom for National Recycling Week

November 7-13 is National Recycling Week! Here are 20 practical and achievable tips to help teachers take it further and green their classroom all year round.

  1. Set a baseline – you won’t know how much you’ve improved if you don’t know your baseline. Spend your first week auditing your current practices. How many electrical items do you have in the room? What are your heating and cooling systems? Do you open the doors or windows? What’s in the classroom bin at the end of the day? Do your kids have access to recycled paper?

2. Avoid the sink – don’t let students tip their half-empty water bottles in the sink when they get home. Encourage them to empty them into the garden – either at school or when they get home.

3. Turn off the printer – send emails, use an online notice board, get students to use whiteboards, iPads or laptops where you can or recycled paper if it’s available.

4. Bring it back – while there is nothing nicer than a fresh set of pencils or textas, encourage students to consider whether they really need a brand new set at the start of each year or term. Alternatively, ask students to donate their lightly used stationery for class sets.

5. Green your class (literally) – indoor plants not only look pretty but they have a calming influence and can purify the air.

6. Declutter your classroom – that pile of magazines sitting on top of the cupboard, the dusty costumes from an assembly three years ago, the rolls of paper towel that have gone hard and yellow… they are creating dust and probably house a few families of cockroaches. Get rid of the clutter, reduce the dust and the air in your classroom will be cleaner.

7. Use fabric not paper – if you tend to use crepe or butcher’s paper as backing for your pin-up boards, why not invest in some colour tablecloths or even bedsheets to use instead? They will last for years, make less dust, don’t tear and are easily washed at the end of the school year.

8. Recycle in class – can you encourage your students to reuse or recycle everything used in class? Recycle paper, food scraps can go to the worm farm or compost bin, plastic-free lunch boxes. Get students to brainstorm uses for everything.

9. Go outside – there are numerous benefits to learning outdoors (link to previous article), the most obvious being that you can turn off the lights and computers if you’re not inside using them. Make it part of your schedule to take students outdoors for a lesson every day.

10. Be a role model – while you are shopping for personal and classroom supplies, take a close look at what you’re buying. Is it sustainable? Are they locally made? Free from toxins and nasties? Set a good example for students to follow.

11. Signpost it – it’s great to have good intentions but if no one knows what you’re doing – or why – there will be little uptake. Put stickers and signs on the light switches reminding people to turn them off, mark the recycling bins and clearly identify what can go in them, even name the class plants. It’s also important to communicate your success – so make sure you share your class projects with parents and the rest of the school (even the local newspaper!)

12. Take an excursion to the local recycling plant and landfill tip – seeing something in person is far more powerful than reading about it.

13. Turn it off – at the end of each school day make sure you actually power down all electrical equipment and don’t leave it on standby overnight. Assign class roles to students to turn things on and off. Keep the lights off if your students aren’t in the room.

14. Celebrate ‘green’ days – Clean Up Australia Day, Global Recycling Day, Earth Hour, World Bee Day, Plastic Free July, National Tree Day, Aussie Backyard Bird Count, National Recycling Week. There are dozens and dozens of environmental days to celebrate and get involved with. 

15. Upcycle and create – while brainstorming uses for scrap paper and items that get tossed in the bin, think about what art projects you can do. Paper mache is an obvious choice for recycled newsprint and computer paper, but depending on what you find in the bin you might also want to consider shredding paper for the local animal refuge, mobiles to hang in the trees, and scarecrows to protect the school kitchen garden. There are thousands of ideas on sites like Pinterest.

16. Make every day ‘ride your bike to school day’ – for older kids, try and encourage them to walk or ride to school as often as they can. At the start of the year set a class goal for how many car trips the class will make as a group. Get them to calculate how much petrol, money and emissions they can save as a group by reducing the time spent in a car.

17. Clear the windows – How much natural light do you have if you take all the posters and charts off your windows? Enough to keep the lights off and save electricity? You will also have fewer surfaces for dust to settle.

18. Involve parents – instead of buying supplies out of your own pocket for your next craft project or maths lesson, ask parents if they have anything they can donate. Many parents will be happy to help – especially if it means decluttering their own home. Be specific.

19. Have a zero-waste day each week – this means nothing goes in the bin from food scraps and wraps, paper, even tissues. Challenge your students and see them rise to the task.

20. Apply for grants – approach your local council and other grant bodies to see if there are any funds you can access for green projects in your classroom or school. Not only will you be able to undertake a cool project, but you can tie it into many aspects of the curriculum from numeracy (making a budget) and literacy (writing persuasive texts) to health and the social sciences.

Shannon Meyerkort

Shannon Meyerkort is a freelance writer and the author of "Brilliant Minds: 30 Dyslexic Heroes Who Changed our World", now available in all good bookstores.

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