The ULS Report TM
Helping people Use Less Stuff by conserving resources and reducing waste.

September-October 1998
Volume 5, Number 5


Waste Prevention 101        A View of Sustainability       


Wherever there are children, there’s garbage. And where there are lots of children, the garbage seems to grow exponentially, like at school. Unlike trash collection at most homes, schools usually pay to have stuff hauled away by the dumpster-full. So by using less and reducing the number of dumpster loads, the environment will benefit, but so too will the bottom line. And that means more money will be available for important things like supplies, maintenance and salaries.

There are many, many ways in which administrators, teachers, parents and children can help their schools to us less stuff. Note to those of you who aren’t in school or don’t have children attending an institution of learning: Please read on, as many of these ideas apply outside of the classroom, too!


First, save a little energy.

  • Encourage employee carpooling. Consider charging for parking space, or offer an incentive to those people who regularly carpool. Some organizations even provide vans for employees to use, splitting the cost of the van among the users and subsidizing part of the expenses. Thus, the cost to car- or van- pool is less than the cost of driving alone. Gas usage will drop, too.
  • Have your maintenance staff or local utility do an energy audit, looking for ways to cut electricity usage. Switching to more efficient overhead lights, reducing classroom temperatures slightly, and installing skylights are all possible sources for savings. Also consider turning down the hot water settings for bathrooms and shower areas.
  • Join the EPA’s Green Lights (1-888-STAR-YES) program, which can provide savings tips while helping you set and achieve conservation/cost reduction goals for lighting fixtures, bulbs and reflectors.
  • Install long-lasting compact fluorescent bulbs in exit signs and other fixtures that are left on for long periods of time.
  • Turn off all lights and equipment (other than fax machines) at night. Make sure all thermostats can be turned down after work as well.
  • When purchasing new equipment, look for the EPA’s "Energy Star" logo, which means the unit is an energy efficient one. Also, have technical support folks make sure that all computer, monitors and printers that have Energy Star capabilities are actually using them.
  • Encourage teachers, staff and students to use public transportation or carpool. Provide bike racks for teachers as well as for students.
  • Have the local utility company perform an energy audit on the heating and cooling systems. Replace filters, add wall insulation, caulk windows, keep classroom and outer door closed.


Next, save some paper.

Many schools have Internet access. Rather than sending home announcements or calendars to students with home Internet access, put the information up on the school’s Web site. Do the same with assignment sheets.

Even with computers, schools are volcanoes constantly spew out tons of paper. Not surprisingly, high schools produce far more white, ruled paper than middle or elementary schools. Have students buy two-sided notebook paper.

Besides paper, the other major source of waste is in the cafeteria. Between lunches brought from home, and food leftover from the serving line, there’s plenty of stuff heading to the landfill that can be avoided. Not surprisingly, the Garbage Project found that most food is wasted in the lower grades: 30% of the waste stream from elementary schools is typically food waste, 27% from middle schools, and 17% from high schools.

Last but not least, cut food waste.

Not much of this waste is preparation debris because most food services in schools buy ready-to-use produce because it is more labor efficient and generates no skins, leaves or peels to go into the garbage. That means that the food waste is real waste -- something that was ready to eat, but wasn’t eaten. One reason for the high waste in elementary schools is that all of the students are usually served one basic set meal, without much real choice. The response to this problem has been a program called 'offer vs. serve'. Instead of serving a set meal, school cafeterias offer students the choice of three of four food items. A scientific hands-on study which compared offer-to-serve waste demonstrated that choices have reduced food waste, saved money, and reduced the labors of the kitchen staff.

Food studies in schools found that there was a great deal of waste in the lunches brought from home. The key to decreasing that waste, once again, is to look at the whole picture and plan accordingly. If students bring lunch to school, here are six simple things to do:

  • Start with a reusable lunch box. Metal ones are very sturdy, while plastic ones are easy to clean and rustproof. Fabric sacks are also a possibility, but get dirty easily and are harder to rinse off.

  • Reuse plastic and paper bags from stores rather than buying paper lunch sacks.

  • Now is not the time to try giving kids something new or exotic. Chances are, it will end up in the garbage. Stick to what you know is good for your children and what they will eat. Experiment at home before sending items to school.

  • Put sandwiches, cookies, carrots and celery in reusable containers such as Tupperware-type containers or reclosable plastic bags. (Remind students to put these back in the box or bag and bring them home to be reused.)

  • Pack fresh fruit, since most types don’t need any additional packaging.

  • Buy liquids in concentrated form. Use a glass or plastic bottle you have on hand to prepare and store the juice. Pour into a thermos-type container that fits in the lunch box. Rubbermaid even sells a reusable plastic juice container the same size as disposable "juice boxes."

To reduce trash from both hot lunches prepared at school and packed lunches from home, we’ve gleaned some great ideas from waste experts around the country. These should be of use to school personnel:

Have the serving staff practice portion control, so that less food goes in the trash. For children under 8, you might even try half portions.

Try to eliminate straws and lids, if you serve drinks in disposable cups.

Look into starting a compost program so that leftovers like fruit and vegetable scraps can be turned back into something valuable: mulch for the school’s lawn and garden areas. There are a number of reasonably inexpensive containers designed for school-size composting, and some are even made from recycled plastic.

Suggest that different classes conduct studies of food waste at school throughout the year. If they carefully sort and weigh the foods wasted, they will learn lessons about scientific methods and about resource waste at the same time. Be sure to go through the trash cans in the halls, classrooms, and outside the building. Kids are constantly buying snacks. The sorters will be shocked at how much of that impulse buying goes to
waste. They will also be surprised at how many lunches brought from home are thrown out untouched! Over time, you should learn what kids will and will not eat and be able to save considerable food from being wasted and perhaps be able to reduce your cafeteria expenditures.

Build an aluminum foil ball. Have kids clean and reuse whatever foil they have brought to school to build the biggest possible ball. Your local recycling organizations should be quite pleased to be able to take away so much clean material at one time and in one piece.

Contact local food gathering organizations, including Foodchain and Second Harvest to determine if leftover food can be picked up and donated to shelters, food banks, etc.

Don’t forget about bathrooms. Post signs reminding students to turn off the water when done washing their hands, and to take only the amount of paper toweling they need. Many paper towel dispensers have three different settings -- large, medium, and small. It may be possible to adjust the feed of towels to the needs of different size students. Also, consider converting to air-drying machines, thus eliminating paper towels completely.

If you need more playground equipment, ask parents for donations of items like balls, bats and swing sets. Many people have these items lying around their house, unused since their kids outgrew them.

Throw a party! Use some of the financial savings from reduced food or trash collection expenditures to reward students for their efforts. (We’ll leave it up to you to determine how to celebrate in a low-waste manner.)

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A View of Sustainability

By Bob Lilienfeld, Editor

This year, my family spent summer vacation on the Leelanau peninsula, northwest of Traverse City, MI. It’s a magnificent little stretch of land surrounded by Lake Michigan. Its western shore is well known for being part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Inland, the peninsula contributes a large part of the area’s famous cherry crop, with many beautiful orchards and even a few up and coming wineries.

The area is struggling to come to grips with the fact that more and more people are visiting every year. While this is good for the local economy, it is beginning to play havoc with the local ecology. The beautiful, winding roads that snake up the peninsula were not designed to handle the steadily increasing number of SUVs and minivans that ceaselessly travel this thin strip of land. The marshes and other wetlands that are home to large numbers
of birds and a variety of aquatic species are feeling the pressure of developers who envision championship golf courses in their stead.

Fortunately, local residents are resisting the allure of easy money, working instead to maintain a decent living without tampering too much with the landscape. In fact, the federal government is doing its part to help, having bought up numerous old farms in order to maintain them as historical sites. Through a strong sense of community and shared values, the residents of Leelanau are working hard to ensure that they leave to future generations a region that is both economically and environmentally vital.

Frankly, I am embarrassed by the fact that what comes naturally to these folks is something that I must work hard at every day -- recognizing that everything I do has an impact upon someone or something else. They also made me realize that the truly important issues of our day don’t involve debates over paper vs. plastic bags or cloth vs. disposable diapers, but focus on ensuring that our grandhildren get to experience nature in
three dimensions, and not merely in books or cyberspace.


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ULS Day approaches -- Just a reminder, it’s coming! November 19th is the
Fourth Annual Use Less Stuff Day. Over 300 sponsors will be helping us get
the message out about the need to go beyond recycling in order to reduce
waste before it starts.

Proving their metal -- Plant biologists at the University of Michigan are
developing plants that remove heavy metals from the soil. They hope to use
the plants to clean up toxic waste sites as well as polluted ponds, streams
and marshes.

Caught in the Web -- The EPA has launched the Center for Environmental
Information and Statistics (CEIS) at The
site provides a wealth of information about pollution and changes in
pollutant levels for virtually every county in the United States. There’s
even some good news: over the last 10 years, U.S. air quality has improved,
owing to significant reductions in emissions of carbon monoxide (18%),
lead (50%), sulfur dioxide (14%) and ozone (18%).

We still don’t get it -- A report released by a group called Resources for
the Future indicates that the Fall 1997 Global Warming Conference held in
Kyoto, Japan did little to change the American public’s opinions about
climate change. Only one third of the public thinks of global warming as
a very serious issue, and fewer people said they were willing to pay higher
utility bills to clean up pollution after the conference than before it.

Use Less Stuff, the book -- Many readers have been asking why we don’t publish all of our tips in one big guide. Starting around October 25, check your local and cyberspace booksellers for Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are. It will be published by Ballantine Books (Fawcett) at a very reasonable $12. Note to Book of the Month Club members: Check your next mailing, because the book has been named an Alternate Selection!

You can order the book now from and save 20%!

ULSBook.GIF (11602 bytes)


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The ULS Report is a bi-monthly publication of Partners for Environmental Progress. Send e-mail to

Snail mail address: P.O. Box 130116, Ann Arbor, MI 48113
Phone: 734-668-1690
Fax: 734-930-0506

Editor: Robert Lilienfeld
Technical Advisor: Dr. William Rathje

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Copyright 1998 Partners for Environmental Progress

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