The ULS Report TM
Helping people Use Less Stuff by
conserving resources and reducing waste.
Volume 5, Number 5
Waste Prevention 101 A View of Sustainability
WASTE PREVENTION 101
Wherever there are children,
theres 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
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
arent in school or dont 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
program, which can provide savings tips while helping you set and achieve
conservation/cost reduction goals for lighting fixtures, bulbs and reflectors.
- Join the EPAs Green Lights (
- 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 EPAs
"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 schools 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, theres 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 wasnt 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 dont 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
To reduce trash from both hot lunches prepared at school and packed lunches from home,
weve 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 schools 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
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.
Dont 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
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. (Well leave it up to you to
determine how to celebrate in a low-waste manner.)
Return to Index
A View of Sustainability
By Bob Lilienfeld, Editor
This year, my family spent summer vacation on
the Leelanau peninsula, northwest of Traverse City, MI. Its 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 areas famous cherry crop, with many beautiful orchards and even a few up and
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 dont involve debates over paper vs. plastic bags or cloth vs.
disposable diapers, but focus on ensuring that our grandhildren get to experience nature
three dimensions, and not merely in books or cyberspace.
Return to Index
ODDS 'N ENDS
ULS Day approaches
-- Just a reminder, its 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
Caught in the Web -- The EPA has
launched the Center for Environmental
Information and Statistics (CEIS) at www.epa.gov/ceisweb1/ceishome.
site provides a wealth of information about pollution and changes in
pollutant levels for virtually every county in the United States. Theres
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 dont 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 publics 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 dont 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!
can order the book now from Amazon.com
and save 20%!
Return to Index
The ULS Report is a bi-monthly publication of Partners for Environmental
Progress. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Snail mail address: P.O. Box 130116, Ann Arbor, MI 48113
Editor: Robert Lilienfeld
Technical Advisor: Dr. William Rathje
The ULS Report is free. We do accept contributions of up to $5.00 to help cover
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Copyright 1998 Partners for
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