It’s no secret schools and paper are intrinsically linked – but neither needs the other in order to survive. In fact, it may be time to make paper an endangered species.
Paper is not only a financial burden on schools but the production, deforestation and waste creates a massive carbon footprint. The good news is: schools can green up their act.
But first, a schooling in math.
The amount of paper used in the classroom varies from country to country. In the US, the average classroom uses 25,000 sheets of paper per year, which equals 833 pieces of paper per student.
Now, if one tree makes 8,333 sheets of paper, that means three trees are being used in every single US classroom per annum. That’s a lot of trees, especially when you consider recycling one ton of paper, which is about 20 full-grown trees, saves enough energy to heat an average home for six months.
And it’s not just the trees that are disappearing. Water is a vital ingredient when it comes to the production of trees. In Australia, to make just one ton of paper, over 90,000 litres of precious water are used, which will fill 450 rain barrels.
Modern paper also involves chemicals for bleaching and, once these chemical-laden products go to the landfill after use, it produces dangerous greenhouse gases during decomposition.
All these numbers are not meant to induce fear – they are simply painting a picture of paper consumption in schools. And based on the math, it’s time to make a change.
So how do you build an army of green warriors at your school?
Learn to love math
A lesson in accounting is the best way to spearhead a sustainable charge. Review your current paper situation. Look at not only how much paper you use but how much paper you waste.
In the UK, the average secondary school produces 22kg of waste per student each academic year. The figure for primary schools is even higher at 45kg per student.
Ashford Secondary School in the UK did their part. They put two lead teachers in charge of Year 7 students to conduct a waste audit, realised they were tossing way too much in the landfill and came up with an action plan.
The school ended up saving nine tons of CO2 emissions per school year through a recycling program.
Educate about trees
Trees are a big part of our collective environments. They produce oxygen, shade, decoration and, if you’re a kid, they are fun to climb.
It’s important to educate students on the impact of paper production on the environment as it is a global problem. The largest producer countries – US, China, Japan and Canada – alone make up more than half of the world’s paper production, which is 400 million tons a year.
According to our earlier calculations, that’s around eight billion trees.
Raise awareness by putting deforestation in perspective. If students cannot imagine that only about 22 percent of the world’s old growth forests remain intact, ask them to imagine a world without trees.
Do something, even if it’s small
After the review and education processes, schools need to take action, even if it is to save one litre of water, one tree or put recycling bins next to every printer.
The simplest way to make a change is to reduce paper-dependent processes and activities with digital alternatives. Go to step one and think about what you have that can go paperless.
Reports and transcripts? Paperless. Permission slips for activities and excursions? Paperless.
School boards and councils should also be encouraged to distribute meeting papers via email or through online blogs to keep the school community up-to-date digitally. It is a cost-effective way to not only save paper but to make sure everyone stays informed.
The technological tools are already at your fingertips to start making your school greener today.