From Gurukuls to the modern classroom, the way humans educate their young ones has taken a giant leap; and so has their consumption, wastage, and carbon footprint.
From ancient times to today, students sit under the comfort of air conditioning and central heating and learn through various visual aids like models and charts and make extensive use of non-renewable resources. While this has increased ease of teaching and learning, it has resulted in a high level of consumption and a subsequent increase in the carbon footprint of the classroom.
It is imperative that the next generation learns to reduce waste, reuse things and recycle materials to lead towards a more sustainable and green future. What better place to teach this ideology than schools and what better way to teach it to them than leading by example.
Here are a few tips on how to work towards a zero-waste classroom.
1. Reduce and recycle paper: Turning a single tree into 17 reams of paper results in 110 lbs of CO2 released in the air. Paper can be recycled 7 times. It is more energy-efficient to create new paper from recycled sources than creating it from scratch.
Trees act as carbon sinks and every tree that is not cut down for paper usage can absorb carbon dioxide gas. It is said,” Save a tree today for it will help us breathe tomorrow”. Few ways to reduce paper waste in the classroom:
● Encourage students to recycle every bit of paper. The students should use the notebooks to full capacity and use every bit of space on the paper before disposing it off.
● Replace virgin paper with recycled paper or paper made from sustainable material like bamboo pulp which takes less time and resources to grow.
● Print on both sides of the paper.
● Go paperless by replacing paper documents with digital documents.
● Smartboards should replace teaching with charts, cue cards, models, and other heavy paper-based teachings. Smartboards also eliminate the need for perishables like chalk and duster.
2. Introduce, implement and teach the concept of reducing, recycle and reuse: In the present era of use and throw, consumption and wastage are at their peak. Thus, it becomes important that the concept of 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) be continuously reinforced in the class.
● Use of cloth napkins to be encouraged in place of paper tissues.
● Use of one-time-use disposables like paper cups, plates, plastic straws, and disposable cutlery to be discouraged.
● The students should be encouraged to use the school supplies like crayons and pencils to the full capacity and not throw away any half-used material.
● Use of refillable pens and markers should be encouraged.
● Use refillable glue bottles instead of glue sticks.
● All the dry waste in the class should go into the recycle bin.
3. Use of eco-friendly and sustainable material in the class: The classroom should move away from plastics.
● Bamboo bins can be used instead of plastic bins to dispose of waste. These are sturdy, long-lasting, and organic. Bamboo is easy to grow and leaves a smaller carbon footprint.
● Plastic folders can be replaced with sturdy bamboo covers or recycled paper covers.
● The students should be encouraged to get steel lunch boxes and water bottles.
● Aluminium foil wrapping of food should be discouraged.
● Plastic covers of notebooks should be discouraged.
● Bamboo or cane baskets can be used by teachers to store class supplies and other necessities.
● Recycle the ink cartridges of the printer. Recycling the ink cartridges uses 80% less energy than producing them from scratch.
4. Reduce the carbon footprint of food by opting for vegetarian food and introducing composting in school:
● Encouraging the students to opt for a vegetarian diet more often as it has a smaller carbon footprint than a nonvegetarian diet.
● Encouraging students to opt for locally grown seasonal produce. This reduces the carbon footprint and wastage of energy, by minimizing storage and transportation of food.
● Introducing composting of food in the school premises. Food waste in landfills takes a lot of time to decompose and emits a large amount of methane which is an important greenhouse gas. Composting the food waste locally is a more efficient way of disposing of food waste and it leaves a significantly low carbon footprint. Furthermore, it reinforces the concept of leading by example as students can participate in the maintenance of compost pits and incorporate the concept of composting in their out-of-school life too.
5. School transportation should be made energy-efficient: A typical school bus produces about 1.3 kg CO2 per km traveled.
● Switching to propane or other cleaner fuels or using hybrid vehicles.
● Using vehicles’ air-conditioning wisely.
● Using more efficient routes.
● Encouraging walking, cycling, or carpooling for commuting to school.
6. Reducing electricity consumption at school:
● Designing well-ventilated, well-lit classrooms for abundant air circulation and natural light.
● Switching to energy-efficient LED bulbs.
● Using air-conditioning wisely.
● Switching off the electric devices when not in use.
● Giving an incentive to children for switching off fans and lights when classrooms are unoccupied.
● Installing solar panels as a greener alternative to conventional electricity.
The task to reduce our carbon footprint for a sustainable and green future may seem daunting initially, but if we take one small step at a time this is not an impossible feat to achieve.
By working towards a zero-waste classroom, we will be consuming less paper, producing less waste, and using our resources more efficiently. This will slow down the depletion of natural resources, reduce global warming and carbon footprint, thereby preventing other disastrous consequences on the environment.
But, most importantly, a zero-waste classroom will be the best tool to introduce our future generation to the goals of sustainable living. They will understand the perils of overusing non-renewable resources and learn to practice a life of less consumption and less waste. It will equip them with the knowledge of green and eco-friendly materials. It will help them to live a sustainable life in harmony with nature. They will carry forward this learning to their homes and families and make others also conscious.
An environmental-conscious generation is the need of the hour and a zero-waste classroom will strive to achieve that for sure.