Teachers and parents have an important role to play in educating children to embrace the three Rs of sustainability: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The additional Rs – Repair and Repurpose – also need to be a part of the conversation for eco-conscious schools and families. 

Using school supplies made from recycled materials is one part of the puzzle: recycled paper notebooks, pens made from recycled plastic bottles and pencil cases made from recycled fabric. But there are lots of simple ways schools can encourage sustainable behaviour and help students become more eco-conscious in their day-to-day lives.

Reducing the Use of Plastic in the Classroom

Using plastic-free products is a good way to introduce the concept of sustainability in the classroom. Encourage your school to avoid plastic plates, cups or cutlery for class parties or school fetes. Be deliberate about choosing environmentally-friendly alternatives or, even better, use washable crockery and utensils.

Ryan Swenson, Head of ESG & Corporate Affairs at Officeworks, suggests teachers and parents look at the Greener Choices range of stationery supplies which includes affordable and good-quality products made from sustainable materials such as paper, wood, and bamboo. Other products from the 2400-strong range are made from natural, sustainable materials or ingredients that are plastic free, compostable or refillable.

Hot Tip for Parents: Try packing ‘nude’ lunches in lunch containers or use beeswax wraps and there’ll be no plastic waste for the landfill bin at all. When kids compare the litter from a regular day to their ‘nude’ lunch day, the difference will delight them. Ensuring they have refillable drink bottles instead of disposable water bottles and juice boxes is another way to teach environmentally friendly habits.

What To Try

SEE ALSO: Easy Ways to Live Sustainably at Home, Work and School

Reusing and Recycling in the Everyday School Environment

By reusing and recycling every day in the classroom, students can learn to become more eco-conscious and environmentally responsible.

Urge your school to teach students about recycling items that, in the past, have been put in landfill. Set up storage tubs in the classroom and give students the responsibility of collecting and sorting items each week to work out where these items can be taken to be recycled.

Most schools will have paper and cardboard recycling programs with a recycling bin set up next to every printer, but printer cartridges, batteries, electronics, hard plastics, soft plastics, and pens and markers can also be recycled. Parents can be part of the process by actively recycling these items at home or by volunteering to deliver collected items to be recycled.

“It's a great way to empower students of all ages to take some responsibility and champion such important causes,” says Ryan. “If every classroom had one person driving this, collectively across Australia, the impact we could achieve is quite huge.”

Reusing stationery products that are still in good condition from one year to the next is a good place to start recycling, as is donating leftover pens, pencils, and stationery to community partners, such as Give Write (in WA) or charity shops, so they can then be reused by children in need.

Officeworks has the Bring It Back program, an extensive recycling program which makes it easy for schools to get involved. The program accepts pens, markers, batteries, printer cartridges and more. Instead of these items going to landfill, the material components are recovered and recycled by Officeworks’ industry partners such as Planet Ark and Mobile Muster.

You can also take action by adding a waste audit into your environmental studies units. Encouraging students to analyse their usage of the items that are generating the most waste in their school can be an effective way of encouraging behavioural change. Officeworks have activity sheets to help.

How Your School Can Participate in the Pens and Markers Recycling Program

The Officeworks pens and markers recycling program is a great school environmental initiative for recycling waste.

Another green alternative for old stationery items in school is to join the pens and markers recycling program, one of Officeworks’ recent school environmental initiatives. There are pen and marker recycling collection points in stores across Australia. 

A small collection box has been developed to use in classrooms or at other points around schools. Any writing instrument that is completely used can be dropped into the box, which is then delivered to an Officeworks store. The pens and markers are collected by TerraCycle and they then break down the materials in the pens and markers, recycling the fibres and plastics into raw formats manufacturers use to make new products, such as outdoor furniture, watering cans, and construction applications. To get involved, simply visit your local Officeworks store to arrange some collection boxes for your school.

Officeworks also has eco-conscious strategies for e-waste like computers and laptops, old keyboards, mice, cables and chargers, as well as a recycling program for batteries, mobile phones and printer and ink cartridges. 

SEE ALSO: Electronic Recycling: Everything You Need to Know

How to Use Composting as Part of Your School's Environmental Program

There are many organisations across Australia working with schools to implement different environmental programs. The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation was set up to help young children have positive experiences growing and eating nutritious food. As part of this, they discover the life cycle of food and waste, find out how to compost the byproducts of the produce, and learn how to cook what they’ve grown. 

Your school can set up a composting program to minimise its landfill and fertilise its garden beds. Practising this in their school environment will help students understand the concept, and teach them how to facilitate it in their own gardens in the future.

The Importance of Teaching Eco-conscious Practices at School

Teaching eco-conscious practices at school, such as composting and recycling waste, is an important step in improving the future of our environment.

Chris Saray, the coordinator of professional development for teachers from the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, says it’s important to teach kids about composting and recycling waste at the school level. 

“It sets the framework for a sustainability headspace,” he says. “It's such a simple way to start looking at sustainable living. The easiest way to do it is in a practical way where they see it.” Essentially, when children are taking turns emptying a compost bucket full of their own banana skins and lunch scraps, they are engaging in sustainability on a real level. 

Another organisation having an environmentally focused impact on school students nationally is Cool Australia. It creates helpful resources for teachers, students and parents designed to prompt higher-order thinking about the climate crisis in a positive and hopeful way (as well as on other topics, such as racism, Indigenous issues and mindfulness, among others). It even partners with organisational initiatives, like the recent MobileMuster Schools Challenge, to encourage school communities to recycle old mobile phones and accessories. Cool Australia also provides digital curriculum guides to teach classes at all levels about recycling. 

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