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August 7, 2023

Sustainable Classrooms: How to Reuse School Supplies and Save the Planet

Target has had their Back to School supplies out and ready since May! We all need a moment when we are navigating the process of getting back to school. As we begin to prepare for the school year, I remember how my former school championed recycling. 

At the end of each year, Rob Peick, an English/Language Arts teacher, and his student team (a highly sought-after position for students!) placed both garbage and recycling bins in the hallways. Students were to clean out their lockers, putting months-old sandwiches and dried-up pens in the garbage bin, and anything else that could be reused into the recycling bin. Mr. Peick and the student team brought everything into a classroom and began the process of sorting the “donated” items. Most of what was recycled would be given to students in need at our school, and at other local schools.  

A couple of weeks later, Mr. Peick indicated there were items we could take as long as we could use them. As an enthusiastic recycler myself, I stopped by after a meeting and checked out the classroom. Students had “recycled” brand new, name-brand shoes, coats, and clothes — some that still had the tags on. To my surprise, there were iPhones and Androids, and an iPad or two, clearly tossed in the bin out of convenience and lack of consideration. Water bottles. Tote bags and backpacks. These piles were considerable, but not as big as the school supplies bin. Stacks of folders and loose-leaf paper taller than my 5’3” frame. Storage bins full of pencils, pens, art supplies. Books to be returned to the library, books to donate to the library. The 3 ring binders were lined up in rows. Spiral notebooks, again, with numerous stacks, with only the first 3-5 pages used. I was in the middle of a storage room that was housing mountains of school supplies. 

As I considered the barely used notebooks, paper, folders, binders that I had thrown away as a student, because of the need for a NEW ream of paper, folders, etc. It was not a thing, reusing supplies from previous years. And now, as I am looking over the lists of mandatory supplies, I’m grateful I could watch that recycling process happen, year after year, because it taught me a few things. A school-based system of recycling and recovery could make a powerful impact on students, teaching responsibility, organization, and the value of things they own. If a recycling and recovery system doesn’t feel right at this time, consider these ideas:

  • Have a supplies swap where students can exchange supplies with each other. This might be helpful at different times in the year, when things might have been lost or broken. The swap could have different focus points: clothes, shoes, cleats/athletic equipment, etc. 
  • Encourage families to go through items brought back at the end of the year to reuse for the following year.
  • Designate time for students to bring broken items to be fixed by fellow students, or even a family volunteer. This teaches students the importance of using items until they are truly in need of replacement.
  • Create space in your classroom for found items can be placed, and students can determine to donate or take back supplies.
  • Add the word, “used or recycled, preferred” on supply lists to amplify the importance
  • Ensure all students have access to digital devices, and shift more of your ”supply list” to digital-friendly needs. 
  • Provide “school supplies recycling” bins in school, and coach students how to use them
  • Have a “community closet” for students to add to and take as needed

Your efforts will make an impact, and your students will be watching! Here’s to promoting collaborative and environmentally friendly classrooms and schools!

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