clutter

Classroom Clutter and Pests Go Hand-in-Hand

By Marcia Anderson

Classroom clutter attracts pests including roaches, spiders and rodents.

Classroom clutter attracts pests including roaches, spiders and rodents.

Schools and childcare centers, by their nature, are prone to the accumulation of boxes, papers, posters and books that are utilized by teachers. Unfortunately, some of the nation’s finest school teachers have reputations for being pack rats. The use of multiple materials for learning is to be applauded, not discouraged. However, materials in classrooms and storage areas left undisturbed for long periods of time may lead to pest issues.

Pests gravitate toward cluttered areas because they provide a safe environment for them to eat, hide and reproduce undisturbed from predators and people. Some cockroaches, rodents, spiders and silverfish prefer layered clutter, such as stacks of paper. These pests carry with them the potential for bites, or are potential allergens or asthma triggers. If a pest infestation occurs, all of the items may have to go anyway. The best way to save the most precious items for the future is to eliminate potential pest harborages today.

Clutter can be dangerous: The brown recluse spider prefers to hide among layered papers and within forgotten boxes in cluttered corners and similar areas. Spiders and other pests have bitten children and teachers reaching into piles to retrieve papers or other items.

Consequences of Clutter: A cluttered space can be overwhelming and waste precious time for both teachers and students. There just comes a time when you simply can’t be efficient anymore because chaos has overtaken the classroom when you can’t find things where they’re supposed to be. Searching and hunting wastes time. Alternately, an organized area helps to promote quick work starts and facilitates an efficient use of time. And once an area is organized, it is easier to keep it this way. Clutter also creates a disturbance in student focus. It is distracting and doesn’t maintain a conducive learning environment.

Keeping a school classroom pest-free is challenging, but utilizing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can reduce the number of pests and the use of pesticides in the school. IPM is a smart approach to prevent and get rid of pests by using what we know to make classrooms, kitchens and cafeterias less attractive to them. Pests come inside because they’ve found the things they need to survive – food, water, and shelter.

Classroom Storage Tips:

  1. Reduce clutter in bite-size pieces. Allocating 30 minutes twice a week to clearing cluttered areas will allow you to get cleaned up and organized in just a few weeks.
  2. Store materials in clear, plastic boxes to better organize, eliminate clutter and prevent pest infestations. Such boxes exist in nearly every size, shape and color for storage needs.
  3. Don’t use cardboard boxes. Cockroaches love to hide in their corrugations and will hitchhike into and set up house in your classroom!
  4. Store boxes on shelves instead of the floor whenever possible. Shelves should be a minimum of six inches and preferably 12 inches off of the floor to allow for access for sweeping and mopping. This space will also discourage any insects and rodents from hiding beneath the first shelf. Leaving space helps the custodial staff to see and clean behind and under stored items. Mice and roaches love to travel right next to the walls, so if you have clutter next to the walls, they can run to and fro undetected during the day.
  5. Clear out clutter to improve pest inspections and treatment effectiveness. Clutter makes pest management almost impossible – pest inspections are difficult when the pest control technician’s access is limited and pests have no reason to venture into treated areas.
  6. Encourage children to help clean up after activities. These clean-up chores can be placed on a Classroom Helper Chart, especially in the younger grades where the help is needed the most.
  7. Keep food items used as math manipulatives, such as dried beans or toasted oat cereal, in tightly sealed containers. Likewise, store animal feed in tightly sealed containers, clean up spills immediately, and clean cages regularly.

Reducing unused items, eliminating clutter, and following IPM practices will improve the air quality in your school, reduce pest problems, and improve the learning environment. It’s time to clean house!

To read more on de-cluttering the classroom, review Purdue University’s recommendations on reducing pest problems by reducing clutter and the University of Arizona’s articles on clearing up and cleaning out for summer and clutter control.

 About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Punxsutawney Phil be Darned…We’ve Started Spring Cleaning

By Jeffery Robichaud

My kids are hooked on Storage Wars (they love Barry and despise Dave) and my wife and I enjoy Hoarders, probably since it makes us feel like better housekeepers than we really are. At EPA in Kansas City, we are preparing for a transition from one building to another and many of us are beginning to grapple with our pack-rat tendencies and being forced to open long forgotten storage cabinets. Such an endeavor should be easy; and the most important part of it is. Records are saved, stored, and managed in accordance with requisite policies and procedures. Unfortunately scientists tend to amass collections of journal articles, data sets, guidance documents, and even specimens that, while not records, represent a life-time of learning and serve as a record of an individual’s career spent protecting human health and the environment.

Which gets me to the hackneyed phrase, one person’s junk is another’s treasure. Case in point; a colleague of mine uses a discolored booklet which is older than I as a prop for employee training. I grabbed it from him one day and realized the title was, “Everyone can’t live upstream: a contemporary history of water quality problems on the Missouri River, Sioux City, Iowa to Hermann, Missouri.” It just so happened we were working on a Missouri River project, and boom there it was, information not present in EPA’s databases or easily accessible at the time in any library. We were able to use this secondary information to fill in historical gaps for our project. Secondary data analysis, using information collected by someone else for another purpose, can be a fantastic way to provide additional context and relevance to a project as well as save costs assuming the information meets your data quality requirements.

As we all continue our march from the paper age to the electronic, consider making your old information and data available through sites like Data.gov, Socrata, or any number of other open data websites. Although this may be sacrilegious to say, all science doesn’t necessarily make its way into published journals. I’ll be giving this a shot as I clean my cabinets. Who knows, something old and dusty may still be valuable to another person in the future for an entirely new reason. Now if I can just convince my wife that this is the case for my Star Wars lunchboxes.

About the author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation scientist with EPA who started with the Agency in 1998. He serves currently serves as Deputy Director of the Environmental Services Division in Kansas City.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

How the 3R’s Can Make a Healthier Home

By Lina Younes

I don’t know about you, but it takes me forever to put away all the holiday decorations once the festivities are over. While all my family members are eager to put up the Christmas tree and decorations right after Thanksgiving, I just don’t find the same number of enthusiastic helpers available at the beginning of the new year. When I finally came around to putting the decorations away, I realized that I had to do more to remove the clutter and start the overall process of having a healthier home environment.

When I embarked on this project to get some order at home, I decided to break it down by room because otherwise the task seemed overwhelming. I enlisted my youngest to help me clean up the toy room first to recycle or donate many of those objects that were just sitting neglected in a pile.

Then, I decided to apply the same rule in the kitchen. What were the items that we used the most? What are those items that are more seasonal or can be stored for use at a later date? What items can be donated to Good Will? As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, reducing clutter is a great way to implementing Integrated Pest Management practices and keep the pests away.

Then, I tackled my youngest daughter’s room. She had definitely outgrown many clothes that were still in perfectly good condition. There were some good coats and jackets that will definitely keep a child warm this winter. Then I went through my closet to find some things that I have been holding on for years. Those items definitely could be used by someone else so they were classified under “items to be donated” as well.

While organizing, I found several old cell phones in drawers. You can either donate them to some non-profit organizations or recycle them.  There are precious metals and plastics in those phones that can be recycled and turned into new products. That way they don’t end up in a landfill.

So, do you have any plans to make your home healthier? We would like to hear from you. If you want to take a glimpse as how you can protect the air quality in your home, visit our virtual house for some tips.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.