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.

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. 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. recycling bin

Suggestions for obtaining recycling bins for cafeterias, classrooms, and hallways:

Other resources

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.
  • Clean green  Environmentally sound cleaning is not just about the janitorial products you buy. The PDF icon 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.
  • The air we breathe. Minnesota schools are required to monitor and take steps to improve indoor air quality. Minnesota Department of Health offers training and resources.
  • Curb bus emissions  Diesel vehicles, such as school buses, contribute more than 50% of all traffic-related air pollution in the state. Check out the School bus retrofit and ide reduction website for financial assistance and educational resources . 

Green buildings

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.