How can schools help with climate change
How to start reusing, recycling and reducing to make your school a greener place.
In a busy school, tackling the issue on climate change can seem overwhelming however, just a few successful changes will build momentum and help staff, students, parents and the wider school community to get behind making some vital environmental and carbon reducing decisions.
Essex County Council have outlined a number of actions in their latest Essex Climate Action Commission document:
- All new schools will be commissioned to be carbon zero by 2022 and carbon positive by 2030
- All schools should have smart meters by the end of 2021
- 50 per cent of Essex schools to be retrofitted to net zero standards by 2025 and 100 per cent by 2030
- By 2022, they will introduce School Streets for 25 schools across the county and an additional 20 every year to 2050. This can be done using current walking and cycling infrastructure, speed restrictions and traffic management systems to promoting safer, greener, and healthier streets. We also need to encourage bus and train travel over cars for longer journeys to school
By nominating 'Green Champions', this will help to raise awareness and encourage behavioural change. It's important for everyone's health and wellbeing that we find ways to encourage and excite everyone about the benefits of 'active' travel. By providing useful information on key local walking and cycling routes (and available public transport), this should allow parents and students to choose a more environmentally friendly option and becoming less car dependent. 'Park and stride' and walking school bus schemes encourage parents to park a little way from the school and walk the rest of the journey. Provide secure bike storage and lockers. Arrange road safety training for all cyclists. Hold a bike MOT day with local cycle shops to service bikes and raise awareness of bike maintenance. Encourage car sharing with friends and neighbours.
Switch off lights and electrical equipment when not in use. A move to green electricity tariffs can also create a big impact. Through greener procurement, schools can use their buying power to reduce emissions. Negotiating with suppliers to clampdown on single-use plastic, buying recycled products (paper, pencils and other stationary products made from 100% recycled materials) and employing local contractors all make a difference. Buy food locally and seasonally.
Think before you throw things away. Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, while five trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. Use reusable bottles for drinks and reusable bags. Install water fountains around school and encourage students to drink tap water. Tap water in the UK is clean, cheap and comes with no packaging problems.
Avoid using plastic cups, cutlery and plates at school, as these are difficult to recycle. Use china cups and reusable cutlery in staff rooms and in refreshment and eating areas. Refill and reuse your old printer cartridges. It is often cheaper to refill than buy new. Cartridges can also take hundreds of years to decompose in landfill. Stationery: reuse old envelopes for internal mail or stick a new label over the old address. Do the same for old paper or plastic folders. Furniture: repair or repaint items of furniture to prolong their life.
Recycling old products into new ones saves raw materials and energy. Old books and computers can be sent abroad or to help people in the lower paid sector though donation schemes but check there are procedures for maintaining the equipment and disposing of it correctly at end of life. Could someone else use your unwanted items? Why not donate them to a local charity shop, advertise on Freegle or exchange them in 'swap shops' or 'give and take' days. The Recycool programme is a great scheme for schools to collect mobile phones and cartridges for recycling.
Reduce your school's food and packaging waste and use suppliers that have sustainable packaging. Incorporate composting into science lessons or eco/gardening clubs. Understanding that there is no waste in nature - only food for other species - it can be inspiring for all.
Nature can be nurtured and encouraged in schools for children to enjoy and explore, e.g. seed & tree planting, creating mini-beast habitats (bee & bug hotels), feeding wildlife (hanging bird feeders), creating wildlife homes (bat & bird homes) and water habitats (creating small ponds). Why not have hanging baskets filled with wildflowers or create a wildlife garden. Leave lawned areas over summer for rewilding.
Lastly, we always need to be conscious of our carbon footprint and the harm it causes to our natural resources and the environment. Always think before you buy. All smartphones contain hazardous materials like bromine, chlorine, lead and mercury, while more than 1,000 components are made of metals like gold, tin, lithium and tantalum, which, although not poisonous, cause huge damage through land degradation and mining. There are also other ethical considerations we need to take- into-account, such as the minerals required to build a smartphone and whether the workers are paid properly and treated fairly.
Let's make 2021 the year of climate action and smart environmental choices
Cllr Louise Pepper
Portfolio holder for Environment and Green Issues and Equalities