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  • Sammy Melnick

44 Ways to Make Your School and Classroom More Green

As an educator, there are so many things you can do to make your classroom and school more green. From recycling to planting gardens to powering your school with solar panels to getting a green seal, the ideas are endless. Plus teaching students about green practices now creates a lifelong interest in saving the planet. These ideas help lay the groundwork for a green school and classroom. What will you start today?

1. Lead a green club

Find students who are interested in making their school more eco-friendly. Help them set a small goal to get started and then encourage them to think of more big picture ideas. Use these tips for success.

2. Hold a recycling bin decorating contest

Get the whole school involved in sprucing up the recycling bins. Task each class with decorating their containers or making their own from scratch. Put them on display and have students vote for their favorites!

3. Apply for grants

Find and apply for grants that offer financial support for green-school initiatives. Here are some garden grants to get you started, but there are lots of other opportunities out there.

4. Get creative with recycling bins

Go beyond the basic blue bucket and make your receptacle stand out. Try this hungry recycle monster. Or keep things super organized with a recycling station, complete with colorful bins clearly labeled for paper, plastic bottles, cans, and cardboard. The easier and more fun recycling is, the more students (and staff) will want to join in.

5. Schedule a trash pickup day

Make it an annual, monthly, or weekly event. Getting outside to see, firsthand, how much trash ends up on the ground helps students become more aware of where they’re putting their litter.

6. Add indoor plants

Studies show that indoor plants naturally purify the air and provide health benefits, like fewer cold symptoms and improved behavior. Start with easy-to-grow plants, like a spider plant, snake plant, jade, English ivy, or golden pothos. Get kids involved in the plant care and nurture mini gardeners.

7. Rally for solar panels

Yes, this is a pricey way to become a green school, but it’s one that pays off. According to EnergySage, solar is the cheapest energy source and saves a ton of money. Plus schools typically have flat roofs, which are a natural fit for solar panels. Do some research and get your administration on board!

8. Get dirty and do a waste audit

Hand out some rubber gloves and let students dig in! Dump trash cans onto a tarp to see just how many recyclables were doomed for the landfill. Tally up all of the misplaced items and communicate the total to the entire school. You can use this waste audit here. Conduct another audit in a month or two and see if your numbers improve.

9. Track your progress

Monitor your school’s recycling impact when you sign up for Recycle Rally. It’s an easy way to set goals and see all of your efforts in one place.

10. Improve air quality

A comfortable, healthy, and safe environment is so important. Old schools with out-of-date ventilation may cause problems. Launch a campaign to improve air quality with tips from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Action Kit.

11. Clean with natural, environmentally friendly products

Start by cleaning with green products in your own classroom. Here’s an article from the EPA to help give you a rundown of what to look for. In particular, read the labels and be aware of any of them that have big cautions or warnings. This is a sign that they might have harmful ingredients. But rally other teachers and administration to take a close look at the products they’re using school-wide, from how they clean the cafeteria tables to the gym floors.

12. Turn recyclables into an obstacle course

13. Rally for the use of reusable containers for lunches

Between sandwiches, snacks, and leftovers, that’s a lot of plastic at lunchtime. Glass or stainless steel containers come in all sizes and are perfect for school meals. Challenge students to start using them.

14. Make yours a zero-waste classroom

If this seems a little extreme, start slow. Maybe try for a zero-waste day or week just to test the waters. If you make it a fun challenge with a little reward, the kids will totally get on board.

15. Grow a garden

Find a small space on school grounds for a garden. Get students involved from the very start—let them choose the plot. Turn it into a teaching moment and have them determine the best spot based on light needs and soil type. Grow veggies and let kids experience how easy it is to grow their own food.

16. Do an energy audit

Analyze and improve your classroom’s energy use. Ask students to brainstorm easy ways to cut back, such as turning off computers every night.

17. Survey students to see what causes they care about most

Whether it’s recycling, installing energy-efficient lighting, or switching to earth-friendly cleaning products, find out what students and their parents care about most. Send out a quick survey.

18. Encourage walking or biking to school

Designate a day, maybe near the beginning of the school year, to encourage students to find green ways to get to school, whether it’s walking, biking, or riding a scooter. Doing it early in the year might make kids fall in love with the mode of transportation and stick with it for the whole year.

19. Take a pledge

Have students take a pledge to commit to recycling, reducing waste, and saving energy. Putting it writing and displaying the pledges in a high-traffic area at school helps kids remember to take it seriously.

20. Start composting

Eliminate food waste by adding a compost bin to your classroom or cafeteria. Food scraps don’t require anything fancy—a five-gallon bucket, small pail, or a wooden crate work just fine. Create a compost team that is responsible for transporting the scraps to a bigger bin outdoors every day.

21. Plant a rain garden

A garden filled with native perennials designed to capture runoff rainwater and recycle it back into the ground is super beneficial to the environment. It also reduces pollution and preserves the sewer systems. Use these lesson plans to get students involved.

22. Install rain barrels

Catch rainwater to feed your school garden. Reusing the water reduces the amount of water that ends up in the sewer system, plus the fresh water is better for the plants. You can also add the water you collect to your compost pile.

23. Use supplies year after year

Reuse last year’s supplies. Set out a box on clean-out day and ask students and parents to throw unwanted items like half-used crayons, colored pencils, and notebooks in it. Either utilize them next school year or donate them.

24. Help students understand WHY recycling is important

Sure, you can ask kids to toss their plastic bottles in the blue bins, but until they fully grasp the benefit, it’ll seem like a chore. Turn the hows and whys of recycling into a lesson plan to make it stick.

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