Ideas sprout at ‘green’ schools

August 17, 2010

By Laura Geggel

For many students heading back to school this year, green is the new black.

From the clothes and appliances they buy to the way they conserve energy and recycle waste, green students are infusing their lives with an environmental perspective.

But even students with the greenest of intentions need guidance, and many got it from King County’s Green Schools program. Out of Issaquah’s 25 schools, 10 have participated in the program: Cascade Ridge, Challenger, Clark, Discovery, Endeavour and Newcastle elementary schools, Beaver Lake, Maywood and Pine Lake middle schools and Liberty High School.

Jack Sansing (left) and Katie and Noah Springborn directed their classmates to use the correct bins after lunch as members of Cascade Ridge Elementary's 2009 Green Team. By Christopher Huber

King County Green School began as a pilot program in 2002 and opened to K-12 public and private schools in 2003, Project Manager Dale Alekel said.

“Interest in the program has grown tremendously over the past few years,” he said. “I think that students and adults are becoming more and more aware of how we are impacting our environment and becoming more knowledgeable about how the steps they take, and the changes they make in their everyday lives can make a positive impact and make a real difference.”

Students can be the eyes and ears of the school, reporting leaky faucets, turning off lights and computers after school, and educating their classmates about recycling.

John Macartney, district resource conservation manager, said his “primary responsibility is to save the district money. We do that foremost through energy conservation, because about 75 percent of our budget goes to energy, like electricity and natural gas.”

As for who can get involved, every school is different, Macartney said. Some schools have classes that study the environment and as part of it, they participate on the school’s green teams. Others have students participate through their leadership classes. You just have to find out what kind of involvement your school has, he said.

Most students throughout the district participate by helping recycle, compost and reduce their consumption. Some students are taking it a step further and have added compost bins to their lunchrooms.

Adding food scrap recycling causes the district’s overall garbage output to go down and recycling to go up, Macartney said.

“As a result of that, there is also the good that comes from teaching kids about environmental responsibility,” he said. “But the district is also able to save some money, because we reduce our garbage costs by reducing the volume of garbage.

“Issaquah Middle School is a shining example of that,” he added. “They started off by having three pickups of garbage a week and now it is down to one.”

Last year, the school actually attempted a zero-waste lunch, he said. That day, because of the students’ efforts, they put out only 15 pounds of trash for 800 kids, when before, they would put out more than a few hundred pounds.

Younger students are also participating in the green movement. In 2008, Discovery Elementary School students received recognition from the Guinness Book of World Records for collecting the most plastic bottles in an eight-hour period. The students amassed 657 pounds of plastic bottles, and recycled all of them.

After learning about green practices at school, students often carry the green spirit wherever they go.

“The other thing that happens, especially what I’ve seen with elementary schoolers, is they take this message home, so they get their parents to focus on reusing and recycling and get them to compost, too, since most of our homes now come with yard waste that accept food scraps,” Macartney said.

The King County Green Schools program has honored Issaquah’s students for their hard work. Since beginning their efforts in the 2001-02 school year, Macartney said the district has won 18 King County Earth Hero Awards and was the recipient of the King County Green Globe award a few years ago.

Back-to-school shopping

As students head back to school, they and their parents can work together to buy more environmental products.

Alekel suggested using the Center for a New American Dream, a nonprofit organization that works to conserve natural resources. Instead of buying new supplies, the nonprofit advises people to reuse material from last year or to frequent thrift stores.

It also suggests alternatives to regular supplies, including soy-based crayons instead of paraffin wax crayons, and avoiding polyvinyl chloride, PVC — a plastic that contaminates the environment with cancer-causing chemicals when produced, according to the center. PVC can also leach out chemicals mixed with it, including lead.

To steer clear of PVC, the nonprofit advised avoiding products with the word “vinyl” on the packaging, such as vinyl three-ring binders, or the number three underneath the recycling symbol.

People can also help the environment by using durable water bottles and utensils, instead of disposable plastic ones, and plastic containers or reusable cloth bags instead of plastic sandwich bags.

“There are so many ways that a person can conserve natural resources,” Alekel said.

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 221, or lgeggel@isspress.com. Former reporter Chantelle Lusebrink contributed to this report. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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