Note: This post was written by Energy Education Director Colleen Fisk and originally published on the AK EnergySmart website here.

The ads for back to school have already started, so I wanted to put in my plug for choosing some green options in your school shopping and in the classroom for both parents and educators. I saw a challenge from a Colorado group where they were asking people to pledge to do 5 things to “go green” for the school year, which inspired me to think of ways that we can do that here in Alaska.

Top 10 ways to go green:

  1. Recycle: I have seen a lot of great education on recycling in the last few years, creating great awareness and slowly but steadily increasing how much gets recycled nationwide. Companies have been finding economical ways to recycle in Alaska, such as West Rock recycling located in Anchorage. They also have programs outside of the municipality – contact them to learn about their back haul program for aluminum cans coming out of rural communities, for example. They even buy aluminum cans at a higher price from youth – perhaps your school could set up a recycling program that could support a club or sports team. Learn more about Anchorage recycling here, and Mat-Su Valley recycling (VCRS) here. VCRS (a non-profit) also has a great classroom to learn about the process of recycling and offers tours of their LEED Gold building.
    .
  2. Compost: You’ve probably seen the statistics that Americans waste a lot of food, and from my observations Alaskans aren’t that much different. Keep some of that food out of the landfill and start composting it! Solid Waste Services in Anchorage has compost buckets that you can throw waste into, at home or at school, or you could bring in even more science and do some vermiculture. Worms can always be a fun way to engage students and have a conversation about the energy it takes to grow and store our food.
    .
  3. Reduce: I think this gets forgotten a lot in the three R’s of “Reduce, reuse, recycle” but the resource that we don’t end up using is the one that has the most impact on the environment – and on our bank account!Whether you’re reducing your energy (turning off those lights) or reducing how much you are buying before school starts, reducing what you use means fewer impacts from production.Do an inventory of what school items you have (leftover notebooks, ie) before you go on a spree buying everything on the back-to-school list. This goes for teachers, too – taking stock of your current supplies can be time-consuming but might mean you have more room in your budget for other fun items like a field trip or that new microscope you’ve been wanting. And of course, doing your own classroom or home energy audit can identify ways to reduce your energy use.
    .
  4. Buy used: This is similar to “reduce” above, but I think it is important to keep in mind that there are some great thrift stores in many communities, such as Bishop’s attic in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley. I have found great like-new items there before, and know that I am supporting a local business in addition to reducing my carbon footprint.
    .
  5. Reuse: If you haven’t checked out Pinterest or seen other DIY projects for the classroom, there are some great ideas out there for reusing everyday objects like soup cans, wire hangers milk cartons. You can also create a special pile for scratch paper that’s only been printed or written on one side, so that it gets used even more before getting recycled. Check with other teachers as well if they have any items that they won’t be using for the school year that might come in handy. Read this article from Earth 911 on how to shop for those back-to-school clothes with the earth in mind.
    .
  6. Boxed lunches: Skip the plastic bag or even the paper bag and use lunch boxes to take your food to school. Bonus if you use reusable containers instead of plastics – for my sandwiches and snacks I use reusable snack bags like these from Amazon. Don’t forget to compost any leftovers and recycle the rest. Bring your own cutlery as well, or at least keep rewashing and reusing the plastic ones, so that you can reduce your single-use plastic waste even more.
    .
  7. Energy helper: Creating a job of an “energy helper” for your classroom that rotates to different students can help keep everyone on track for reducing your energy use. Have a list of things to check in the last 2 minutes of class – such as electronics and lights off, heat turned down, blinds closed, and recycling sorted – and watch as the students start reminding each other during class about ways to save energy!
    .
  8. Drive lessFind ways to drive yourself and your kids around less. Whether it’s biking to school in the fall before the snow hits, carpooling with other families who are at the same after-school activities, or making sure your kid makes the bus, they can all make a difference and reduce your fossil fuel emissions. Bike to school/work days are in May, so keep an eye out for that next year!
    .
  9. Refuse: Start thinking of the ways that you can refuse items that you don’t need on a regular basis, like the plastic straw in your water at a restaurant or the freebies at a conference or festival that will just end up getting thrown away at home anyway. You can also borrow items that you don’t need from family or friends, such as a TI-83 calculator from a neighbor whose kid just graduated high school, and refuse to buy something new that you don’t need.
    .
  10. Upcycled art: Combine science and art in a STEAM lesson to create some fun home or school decorations with a science theme, such as bottle cap murals, magazine clipping collages, or cardboard sculptures. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” – the saying may be overused, but it’s true!

Taking just a few of these steps will help increase your children’s or students’ energy literacy and help you improve the environment!