Helping schools reduce pollution
In Minnesota, 2,469 schools serve more than 898,000 K-12 students and employ thousands of teachers and staff. The energy used in heating and lighting school buildings, the trash created in cafeterias, and chemicals used for cleaning are just some of the pollution control issues faced by education administrators. The MPCA is here to help with suggestions to assist schools in reducing their environmental impact. Getting students involved in the efforts—and making use of our environmental education resources—can promote environmental awareness and help instill lifelong green habits in children.
Waste reduction and recycling
Minnesota's Waste Management Act requires public entities such as schools to recycle at least three materials. But it's clear that much more can be done to divert school garbage away from landfills. In 2010, the MPCA studied school solid waste in partnership with Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis. By sorting through all the garbage, recycling, and organic material discarded by six schools over a two-day period, the researchers found:
- More than 78% of school waste could be diverted from the trash to organics composting and container/paper recycling collection programs.
- 50% of school waste could be managed via organics composting programs that accept food waste, liquids, and nonrecyclable paper.
- The most common material generated by schools was food waste—23.9% of the total waste generated.
- Recyclable paper (cardboard, white office paper, and mixed paper) accounted for 23.5% of the total waste generated by schools.
- Minnesota K-12 public schools generate an estimated 483,520 pounds of waste per day.
County governments often have staff dedicated to solid waste or recycling who can help you in your recycling and composting efforts. You can search our database for the correct person in your county. Recycle More Minnesota also has a toolkit for schools on how to implement and operate a recycling and composting program.
A major obstacle for schools is often just obtaining recycling bins for cafeterias, classrooms, and hallways. Some suggestions:
- John Maattala Bin Grant program An annual competitive program of the Recycling Association of Minnesota. (Open to RAM members only, but schools can join at a low rate.)
- John Maattala Bin Grant program
- Message in a Bottle recycling program Recycling Association of Minnesota sells containers specifically for bottle recycling.
- Message in a Bottle recycling program
- County solid waste offices may have bin programs.
- Coca-Cola Bin grant program Competitive grant program providing bins for public spaces (including schools) for the collection of beverage container recyclables.
- Coca-Cola Bin grant program
- Your trash/recycling hauler may be able to provide bins or grants to obtain them.
- Free recycling signs and images The Recycling Association of Minnesota offers free downloadable signs (organic food waste composting, recycling various materials).
- Free recycling signs and images
- Minnesota's Cooperative Purchasing Venture (CPV)
Join the CPV, where you can purchase containers at a bulk rate.
Further waste reduction resources
- The MPCA's Recycling Guide for Minnesota Schools outlines steps for starting a recycling program.
- The EPA's WasteWise program can help in designing and implementing waste reduction practices.
- The Healthy Sustainable Schools Guide for Change includes tips on reducing paper use and food waste, and guidelines for composting.
- Resource Management Programs help organizations use waste-hauling contracts to foster waste reduction and recycling.
- Tools to Reduce Waste in Schools A guide to help your school and school district reduce the amount of waste you generate and benefit your school, your community, and the environment by reducing, reusing, and recycling your waste. (U.S. EPA)
- Tools to Reduce Waste in Schools
Efficient and healthy buildings
Many factors contribute to making school buildings energy-efficient and healthy for users. Administrators must consider heating, lighting, and water use as well as chemicals used in cleaning and the products schools purchase. Here are some places to start:
- Check your systems If your school has a steam-based heating system, you may be able to make it more efficient.
- Buy smart Choose environmentally friendly products when purchasing. Practicing environmentally preferable purchasing—buying goods and services with a lesser impact on human health and the environment—can make your school healthier and more energy-efficient. Rethink Recycling offers an environmentally preferable purchasing guide on its website.
- Clean green Environmentally sound cleaning is not just about the janitorial products you buy. The Healthy Sustainable Schools guide suggests strategies for minimizing dirt and waste, such as sweeping regularly just outside entryways and using dispensers to reduce consumption of soaps and cleaners.
- Think about the air Minnesota schools are required to monitor and take steps to improve indoor air quality. The state's Department of Health can help. One issue is the use of pesticides to eliminate insects, weeds, and rodents. Integrated pest management is an alternative approach to controlling pests using the most appropriate and least hazardous techniques.
- Curb bus emissions Diesel vehicles, such as school buses, contribute more than 50% of all traffic-related air pollution in the state. Project Green Fleet can help raise money to acquire pollution-control equipment for buses. It's also important to reduce unnecessary idling in front of schools: School bus retrofits and idle reduction.
- Dismiss toxins Teachers and staff may be using mercury-containing items that should be recycled. See the Healthy Sustainable Schools guide for a list of items to check for and remove. Some types of older flooring (poured in place polymer floors) contain mercury and may be cause for concern. The Healthy Sustainable Schools guide can also offer tips on eliminating lead contamination, and safe storage of cleaning and other chemicals.
Remodeling a building to make it more energy-efficient or building a new facility using green principles can dramatically reduce the energy and water—and money—needed to run a school. Because school facilities are used for years and years, schools districts are in a unique position to benefit from green building and design efforts, which sometimes represent higher upfront costs. The longer a building is used, the greater the return on those upfront investments. Visit our Green building for schools page for information on:
- Building guidelines
- Procurement assistance
- Indoor air quality
- Energy-saving operations
- Water conservation
Further healthy facility resources
- Healthy Schools Campaign Healthy Schools Campaign has information on healthy school food, indoor air quality, green cleaning, and more.
- Chemical Safety Day Program (University of Minnesota) A cost-effective hazardous waste collection program available to educational institutions.
- Minnesota Green Schools Coalition The Minnesota Green Schools Coalition brings together the state’s strongest advocates for our children to create a Minnesota infrastructure of green schools – healthy, high-performance schools that are conducive to learning while saving energy, resources and money.
- The new Watertown-Mayer Elementary School (Watertown, Minn.) was built using local materials to save transportation fuel and costs, and features water-efficient landscaping to reduce the need for irrigation.
- The Kennedy Community School (St. Joseph)was designed to manage all its stormwater on site, preventing harmful runoff, and 78% of the construction waste was diverted from landfills. A video describes the school's green features.
- Minnesota Independent School District 742 (St. Cloud) increased recycling and began environmentally preferable purchasing for its cleaning products.
Another significant way that schools can help reduce pollution is to teach students about environmental issues and the impact of human actions on water, land, and air. The following is a collection of materials meant to assist in educating future environmentalists.
- SEEK, or Sharing Environmental Education Knowledge, is a partnership of environmental educators from around the state. The SEEK website offers a wealth of environmental education material.
- The MPCA's learning resource center has a collection of fact sheets, display materials, videos, curricula, and activity guides available at no charge.
- Environmental education materials geared toward students in English as a second language (ESL) and limited English proficiency (LEP) classes are also available.
- The household hazardous waste learning trunk includes props, sample products, display boards, and teacher aids to help teach the proper use, storage, and disposal of products such as oil-based paint, weed killers, and drain opener.
- See additional resources on our Educators page.