Teachers making sustainability “normal” in their classrooms.
Teachers for an Un-Trashed Planet
Why I want to find a solution for plastic glue sticks
Kindergarten students use so much glue for important and creative work, which can produce tons of plastic waste everyday. I avoid buying or using school-provided glue sticks and mostly use white liquid glue, reusing the little bottles over and over by refilling from a larger jug. Even that creates plastic trash, though, so I am after an even better solution that shows children that creativity and learning does not have to add to the plastic trash that will never go away. That’s why I am excited to use rice paste and flour paste in my classroom!
why Im setting up a "last plastic marker box"
I already make it a practice in my classroom not to use plastic markers. My students use only crayons, colored pencils, chalk, oil pastels, etc. to do their work. I also mostly use crayons and pencils for my teacher tasks, but I still have the markers I had when I earnestly started my low-waste classroom journey. As I use up the markers for paper and dry erase that I still have, I will place them in the “Last Plastic Marker” box to highlight and commemorate the end of markers in my class’s life! I plan to save that true Last Plastic Marker, mount it, and frame it. Hopefully that will not only keep me focused on my zero-waste path, but also be a conversation starter and inspiration sparker for my fellow teachers, students, and parents!
What I use instead of disposables for parties
When discussing parties with class parents, I always indicate that we will not use throw-away table cloths, plates, utensils, and decorations. Over time, I have developed a collection of reusable items (mostly purchased by classroom parents as donations for just one party – little did they know I would save them!) for each holiday that I provide my “party parents” with so they can use those when decorating for parties. When a certain holiday is missing certain items, I either request that in a reusable form as donations from parents or I purchase the reusable version myself.
How I cut down on paper waste
How I avoid laminating
I dont use dry erase often, but when I do...
tree-friendly tissues that work for my classroom
Instead of buying tissues from conventional brands (who aren't super tree-friendly), I purchase tissues from Who Gives a Crap because these tissues ARE tree-friendly (therefore you're not blowing your nose with one of the most precious resources on the planet).
why i wont use spiral-bound Notebooks
The only notebooks I've purchased in the last couple years are recycled and/or recyclable - so no wire spirals, no plastic covers, no glitter or paint or anything fancy at all. I really like the aesthetic of these simple notebooks, and I'm pretty sure you can buy them with blank, lined, or grid pages. The planner I bought for myself this year was the first planner I've ever bought that will actually be able to go back to the Earth some day (it's WSC's 2020 planner, and I just happened upon it before I even really knew they were all about sustainability), and I really wish this is a change I'd thought to make long before (especially since I've been using planners since I was in high school, and none of their covers are recyclable or compostable like the one I have now is).
My solution for Flair pens + highlighters
I've now invested in refillable metal pens with metal cartridges, and much like the recycled notebooks, these fit the clean aesthetic that I'm all about. Next year, with my teacher lead money, I plan to invest in more of these for my classroom. Speaking of pens, this reminds me - don't take the free pens! From the bank, from the CPA, from that one random business who wants you to remember your name and somehow that'll be accomplished by using their pens - no free pens from anyone. I know I personally, quite literally, have never needed one of these pens in my life, and they really just gunk up the junk drawer more than it already is. If people stop taking free junk, hopefully other people will stop making it. This is a quality versus quantity things, my friends.
Other typical classroom supplies I've replaced over the years include plastic highlighters. I only supply my students with the peel-back highlighter pencils now and encourage colored pencils too.
How I bring up sustainability with my students
Propagating plants in the classroom (if you have lovely lighting like I am fortunate to have) is a guaranteed way to promote the topic of sustainability. Students often like to guess what I'm growing or ask how to start their own plants from pits or seeds, and for me it absolutely adds some calm to the atmosphere of the room.
Why my classroom is zero waste
Once I got informed about plastic recycling not really happening, I didn’t want to participate in that anymore. So I shared it with my kids.
Having done a zero waste classroom for the fifth year now- I feel it completely inspires all my students.
They can connect, they can make changes, see and measure it. They know the world has great challenges, but they are empowered daily with the desire to learn more and the ability to make a difference.
my biggest challenges with a zero waste classroom
It’s not as much as you would expect. The trick is to get the kids onboard, to make it theirs. Make them feel like it’s reachable for them. It’s a matter of intention. You try to be intentional to make the least waste you can.
The kids embraced it on a deeper level, naturally, without a lot of force. They all wanted to do this, to do their part. Kids feel so powerless in the world. For them to know there’s a concrete way they can make a difference. That what they’re doing is worthy and they have a role in the world–they really want that. They’re so proud, so bold. They impress me so much.
What I use instead of plastic pencil sharpeners
- My students use small metal pencil sharpeners to sharpen their pencils during class. The shavings go into a pencil cup that sits on their shared desk area. It’s simple and quiet, and when the cup fills up, we put the shavings in the compost because we use unpainted pencils (paint is plastic!).
What we do instead of back-to-school shopping
I ask parents not to buy anything at the beginning of the year. We reuse what we have in the classroom, and parents can contribute as little as $5 (or more if they are able) to a fund I have set up through Wisdom Supply Co. so I can restock supplies as I need them Jacqueline Omania’s 5th Grade Class.
Why I prefer colored pencils + crayons over plastic markers
1. Their work is much neater and higher quality with colored pencils and crayons. Colored pencils and crayons require the students to use more fine motor control and offer so many more options for color variety and blending than markers do.
2. I teach first and second grade, and the amount of plastic markers that we were going through was staggering. I would remind them all day long, but inevitably the caps got left off and markers dried out and were thrown away within a few weeks of opening a new pack.
3. Crayons and colored pencils last SO much longer than even the best cared-for marker. Using markers just seemed like a poor use of money and resources that resulted in lower quality work.
How I use masking tape to save pencils
- I've started assigning each student a pencil with his or her name on it. The ownership that this creates has reduced our pencil consumption drastically. Prior to this practice, kids would break pencils, sharpen them down to nothing, chew on them, and tear out the erasers just to play with them. Now they know that I'm expecting them to take care of their pencils and we've learned about why it matters. The change was so easy and made such a huge difference this year that we'll never go back! I'd say we're easily using 1/10th of the pencils that we used to. Sure, kids still lose them or break them or chew on them occasionally, but overall their level of responsibility has been impressive and has had a huge impact on how many pencils we use.
Why I stopped using the laminator
I realized that most laminated game boards and letter cards don't really hold up that long under kid use anyway and that it would have a far smaller environmental impact to just remake what I needed out of paper or cardstock every few years. As for things that go on the wall, laminated posters often reflect a bright glare and are very hard for the kids to actually read. So by not laminating decorations and instructional posters I am having a positive environmental impact while making those resources more accessible to my students.
Our real plates + cutlery prevent hundreds of disposables a year
We have class parties that require plates and forks about 4 times a year. That meant we were throwing away 84 paper or plastic plates and 84 plastic forks or spoons a year. Multiply that by a decade of teaching, and that's 1,680 items in the landfill. So one year I went to our local nonprofit thrift store and bought a set of salad plates for my kids to use. Then a parent heard what we were doing and bought us a set of thrifted forks and spoons. Either a parent or I wash them at the classroom sink after each celebration. I was worried about the kids breaking them at first, and then I realized that they're probably eating on real plates at home and know how to do it ;). We haven't broken a single plate in the 10 years that I've had them!
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