A Green Back to School
Back to School time! Follow some of the ideas here to make sure your child’s school is healthy, safe, and sustainable. Learn how to buy recycled- and environmentally-friendly school supplies, pack a waste-free lunch, check out the health and safety of your school facilities, inquire about your school’s Wellness Policy, and more… Our children spend a large part of their days inside a school, so it is critical that the school environment not expose our children to toxic chemicals, have good indoor air quality, serve healthy food, allow for recess and physical education, and generally promote health and well-being. You can be part of the solution – take action this school year!
1. Check the health and sustainability of your school
One in five people who live in this country – 55 million children, teachers, administrators, janitors, and nurses – spend their days in K-12 schools. A growing body of research shows that the poor environment at schools is a detriment to children’s health and learning. Yet, the U.S. Environmental Protection agency estimates that the environmental conditions in as many as half of all schools is unhealthy.
Check the health, safety and sustainability of your school using the following helpful checklists and tools:
- Healthy Schools Everyday – Use their checklist, www.healthyschools.org
- Green Flag Schools – Back to School checklist - www.greenflagschools.org/checklist.pdf - and School Environment Survey that parents, teachers, and kids can conduct - www.greenflagschools.org (look under the “Getting Started” section for K-8 or 9-12 schools)
- What is a “green school” – Check out our Little Green Schoolhouse graphic that shows the 4 key elements of a green school built on the foundation of the Precautionary Principle (also downloadable PDF) www.greenschools.net
2. In California, check that your school is in good repair
In 2004, the State of California settled a lawsuit that had charged the state with violating students' rights to adequate school facilities, sufficient instructional materials and books, and qualified teachers. As a result of the settlement, the State will ultimately set aside $800 million for the Emergency Repair Program to correct problems that threaten the health and safety of students at eligible schools.
Find out if your school is eligiblefor grant funds to make repairs and what you can do about it, if you are in California and believe that your school facilities do not meet a standard of good repair:
- List of eligible schools – Search for your school by county and district here: www.cde.ca.gov/eo/ce/wc/ (under "Beneficiaries of the Williams Case")
- Filing a complaint – Learn your rights, how to file a complaint, and get assistance through a hotline at www.decentschools.org/settlement_action.php
3. Re-use, Recycle, and Buy Environmentally-Friendly Back-to-School Supplies
Your back-to-school purchases can make a huge difference. Here's why: Did you know that 14 billion pencils are produced every year, many made with wood from ancient forests? Did you know that Americans use about 31.5 million tons of printing and writing paper each year, requiring 535 million trees (most from virgin tree fiber) and 12 billion gallons of oil to make? Each American, on average, consumes about 660 pounds of paper per year, compared to 550 pounds in Japan and only about 8.8 pounds in India.
Re-use and recycle:
- Consider whether you can reuse some of the binders, pencils, and markers from last year. You might not need to buy much new!
- Shop for used binder notebooks at your local re-use agency. In the Bay Area check out East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse - 3-ring notebooks are about 25 cents!
- Buy some used clothing at numerous fashionable and funky storesand/or donate your own used clothing. In the Bay Area, check out: Hannah's, Chloe's Closet, Miranda's Mama, Darla's Baby Boutique, Child's Play, Crackerjack's, Buffalo Exchange, Crossroads Trading Co., Goodwill, Salvation Army, Out of the Closet, and more. Or look on-line or in the Yellow Pages under "used children's clothing."
Buy environmentally-friendly supplies:
- Office Depot - www.officedepot.com (shop in store or online) sells products by Mead and Second Nature, which include notebook paper, bound notebooks, and other paper products that are made of 50% recycled paper, 30% post-consumer waste recycled paper; Dixon-Ticonderoga pencils made from certified sustainable-harvest wood; and EnviroTech products, which have a higher recycled content.
- Staples - www.staples.com (in-store or online) look for: Ampad Recycled Notebooks (50% recycled content, 20% PCW), Staples Recycled copy paper (30% PCW), Earthwise Recycled Composition Book (100% recycled), Southworth 25% Cotton Recycled Paper.
- Green Earth Office Supplies - www.greenearthofficesupply.com (online only) sells notebooks, recycled paper, recycled binders (even ones made of old circuit boards!), pens and pencils, notebook dividers, and many other great products such as reusable, biodegradable, non-PVC plastic containers for lunch boxes under the Kitchen Supplies tab (containers have to be hand-washed).
- Center for New American Dream - www.newdream.org/buy/bts/index.php has an excellent buying guide. Look under specific items, such as paper, pencils, or backpacks, for sources, guidance, and general information.
- Better Office Products - www.betteroffice.com, 1-800-631-7673 has a complete line of PVC-free polyethylene office supplies. Avoid PVC (has a "3" in the recycling symbol or a "V" underneath); many office products that are "archival quality," or "acid free" are not made from PVC.
4. Pack a waste-free and toxics-free lunch
School lunch is another area where we can make a difference. It has been estimated that, on average, a school-age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That equates to 18,760 pounds of lunch waste for just one average-size elementary school! There are 9,000 schools in California alone! And did you know that many vinyl lunchboxes have poisonous lead in them at dangerous levels?
Find out how you can pack a healthy, waste-free lunch:
- Waste Free Lunches - www.wastefreelunches.org - gives information about how to pack a waste free lunch and where to get a "laptop lunch box" with reusable containers that neatly fit into a lunch box.
- Reusable Bags - www.reusablebags.com - provides many alternatives to help reduce the waste of disposable plastic and paper bags.
- Lunch Guidelines - Download this Word file with helpful waste-free lunch guidelines developed by 2 fourth graders at Prospect Sierra School. Waste-Free Lunch Guidelines
- Lead in Lunchboxes - Learn about how to test your child's lunchbox for lead, find alternatives to vinyl lunchboxes, and join the campaign to stop the manufacture of toxic lunchboxes at www.cehca.org/lunchboxes.htm
- Healthy Lunches - Get ideas for packing your own healthy lunches from Chef Ann at www.lunchlessons.org or transform the school lunch offered at your school with this guide at www.rethinkingschoollunch.org .
- Avoid PVC Plastic - Many Glad (TM) products are made with polypropylene and are PVC-free, including Glad bags, Gladware reusable containers, and Glad plastic wrap. Avoid #3 plastics.
5. Check that your school has a Wellness Policy
In the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, the U.S. Congress established a new requirement that all school districts with a federally-funded school meals program develop and implement wellness policies that address nutrition and physical activity by the start of the 2006-2007 school year.
Ask your school principal if your school district has adopted the required policy. Find out if the policy will promote nutrition and physical activity as described here:
- National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity - www.schoolwellnesspolicies.org provides model school policies that will promote children’s health and well-being.
6. Start a green school program at your school
All schools can improve their environmental performance in some way. You can catalyze and support green programs at your school in a variety of ways. Many “green” schools have reported that their environmental programs have strengthened their school community in unpredictably positive ways, in addition to contributing to a healthier environment. Kids love the opportunity to be leaders and they are producing tangible results at their schools by reducing, recycling, reusing, composting and building their problem-solving skills.
Learn about ways to empower your kids and your school to make a difference:
- Green Schools Initiative Take Action Page - www.greenschools.net/action.html - Tips for passing a school board resolution, and 7 Steps to a Green School, can help you get started.
- National PTA - www.pta.org/ia_pta_positions_1118177949953.html - National PTA has a position on School Modernization and Environmental Health and provides tips and resources for ensuring safe and healthy school facilities.
- Green Purchasing Policies - www.newdream.org/procure/ - Pass an environmentally friendly-purchasing policy at your school with ideas and model policies from Center for New American Dream’s Institutional Purchasing Program.