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Back to School Going Green!

Well it is back to school shopping time so let’s talk about saving some green (a.k.a. cash) and going green with the 3-Rs—Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  Reusing school supplies from last year will reduce the amount of items you need to purchase and decrease your environmental impact.  Look around the house, in your book bag, and under the car seats for pencils, pens, and partly used spiral notebooks.

After you have gathered up last year’s left over school supplies it is now time to go shopping!  Use your environmental consumer super power to purchase recycled versions of items you still need.   There are lots of choices to “make a statement” with your green school supplies purchases.  Purchase brands with the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content.  Become an instant Eco Fashionista!  Recycled purses and bags made from juice boxes, seatbelts, magazines, newspapers, and more.  My favorite is recycled paper with flower seeds imbedded in it for those special notes.   I also stop in at my local zoo’s gift shop to get a Poo Paper fix.   It is paper made from elephant (or other animals) manure; no it doesn’t smell, but it does make a great conversation starter.

Make textbook covers from recycled paper grocery sacks, crayons and markers or an old T-shirt. 

Retro is in!  Stop by your local gently used store to buy a new look and donate stuff from your closet that no longer fits your style or your body.  Purchasing gently used clothing is a huge way to decrease your ecological footprint.

If you take snacks or your lunch to school, remember to purchase regular- sized bags and then put what you need for the day into a reusable container.  With snack-sized bags you pay more for smaller portions AND the extra packaging creates more waste

If you drive, start a carpool!  It will not only save some cash but you and your friends can get a head start on “whatz up!” gossip before arriving at school.

Denise Scribner has been teaching about environmental issues for over 35 years.   For her innovative approaches to teaching to help her students become environmentally aware citizens, she won the 2012 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. Her high school was also one of the first 78 schools across the USA to be named a Green Ribbon School in 2012.

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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Trayless Tuesdays in NYC Schools Inspired by a 7 Year Old

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Three years ago, I took my children to the Climate Change exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. The kids raced in and out of rooms and three quarters of the way through, my seven-year-old suddenly stopped mesmerized, contemplating a diorama of a polar bear standing on a pile of trash. She turned to me and said,  “I’m not eating school lunch anymore so I can save the polar bears.” In that pile of trash was a polystyrene foam lunch tray.

I always asked my kids, “What did you eat today?” But I had never asked, “What did you eat ON today?” I was totally unaware of the 850,000 polystyrene trays used per day in NYC public schools.

My kids did the math. That adds ups to153 million trays per year and almost 3 billion trays over the past 20 years. I did the research. These trays, composed of polystyrene, known commonly as Styrofoam, are used for only 20 to 30 minutes and then thrown away, exported to out-of-state landfills.

Several NYC parent groups switched out polystyrene trays in their schools by self-funding the extra cost of alternative products, a prohibitive option for most schools. With the help of other parents and the inspiration of NYC’s 1.1 million public school children, we founded the grassroots organization, Styrofoam out of Schools.

We scrapped our initial plan, to create a media blitz about the environmental concerns, when we learned that 75% of school meals served per day are either free or reduced. The possibility of adding to the already existing stigma around school food participation prompted us to find a different strategy.

We became determined to find a solution for a 20% tray reduction by working with the Department of Education, rather than fighting them. The idea of Trayless Tuesdays developed out of this partnership. It’s simple: by not using polystyrene trays one day per week, we could quickly reach a 20% reduction goal.
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To hear more from Debby Lee and her partners in NYC and to learn how to implement Trayless Tuesdays in your school please tune in to the EPA Region 2 webinar Reducing Waste in Schools: Trayless Tuesdays,” on March 1 at 1:30pm. Space is limited. Reserve your Webinar seat now at:https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/649234322.

Debby Lee Cohen is a public school mom, artist, educator, and co-founder and director of SOSNYC/Cafeteria Culture.

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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Snowed Under in our Green House

Jeffrey Levy stands in knee-deep snowHi everyone. If you’re looking for the question of the week, it’ll be back next Monday. Our offices are closed Monday and Tuesday because of record-breaking snow, so our team wasn’t able to post it. And we’re expecting another several inches Tuesday night into Wednesday.

I’m sitting here in my dining room trying to get at least a little work done, though.  Looking around my house, I remember all the green building decisions we made when we renovated last year.  Right from the beginning, we did our best to reduce, reuse, and recycle (thanks for your good comments on that post!). Some of these choices might save us money over time, but our main motivation was that green building and home location is just the way it should be done:

  • zero-VOC paint and low-VOC caulks and adhesives
  • a high-efficiency Energy Star furnace (and air conditioning, for when summer returns), plus an Energy Star dishwasher to replace the original that died a month after moving in.  We kept the other appliances, and will replace them with Energy Star units as they stop working.
  • Energy Star double-paned windows and doors
  • light-colored roof shingles to reflect the hot summer sun
  • compact fluorescent light bulbs (other than on my youngest child’s night table because she keeps breaking them)
  • bamboo floors where the old floors couldn’t be saved, and refinished hardwood and parquet that could (like the appliances, why throw out stuff that works?)
  • kitchen countertops made of recycled glass and bamboo
  • Watersense water-efficient sinks, toilets, and showerheads
  • blown foam insulation that’s keeping us nice and toasty.

We also put the old kitchen cabinets in our laundry room and basement, and donated a lot of extra materials and fixtures to a local organization that sells them again.

The house’s location is also pretty green, since I can easily walk or bike to the subway.  Our kids ride the bus and walk to school, and we’re a 10-minute walk to the library and a small commercial district with several restaurants, a drug store, and our favorite: a local ice cream shop.

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to find a home near public transit, and not every building option is available or affordable.  For example, while wood and other materials were greener, they were too expensive compared with vinyl windows.  But we did as much as we could.

We’re happy with our choices, but we enjoy discussing them, too.  What’s your favorite green feature of your home?

About the author: Jeffrey Levy is EPA’s Director of Web Communications.

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.