Schools: This One’s For You!

How can I do my part to ensure clean water resources and a greener environment in my school? Many people should be asking this important question! Whether you are a parent, teacher, school staff member, student, or community volunteer, you want your school to provide a healthy, welcoming place to learn. In this Blog, there are several ideas about how educational institutions can take a step towards a cleaner, greener future for our water.

Schools use a tremendous amount of water every day, and require water for their heating and cooling systems, restrooms, drinking water faucets, locker rooms, cafeteria, laboratories, and outdoor playing fields and lawns. Small steps in the community toward water conservation can make a big impact. Integrating conservation efforts in educational program for students makes an impact for future generations. Greener schools also protect the environment, keep teachers and students healthy, as well as promote environmental values in young, impressionable minds.

Reusable Water Bottles

Students and teachers can take reusable water bottles to school instead of buying plastic water bottles. Plastic water bottles are not sustainable when being manufactured, shipped, and discarded around the globe. U.S. landfills are overflowing with 2 million tons of discarded water bottles alone. Much of the plastic we consume ends up in the world’s water supply, where it is even harder to fish out and safely throw away. Many bottled water plastics also contain toxins that can have a harmful effect on human health. Financially in the long run, your wallet will also thank you!

Recycle!

When you’re able to recycle, you should! All schools should have proper recycling and compost programs to ensure a clean environment. Whether its paper products, food products, plastics or upcycling old items, it’s important to think about which trash can be saved from a landfill.  If you are planning on kicking off a recycling or composting program at your school in the future, it is helpful to know how much of each kind of waste your school produces so you target the right items. There are a lot of reasons to find out where your starting point is- the celebration of your schools success will be that much better if you can measure how far you’ve come! And showing measureable success is the best way to get other school’s on board with your program.

Recycling cuts back on energy consumption and can prevent water pollution in the future. In addition to recycling, composting is a great way to promote a responsible and environmentally friendly way to deal with food scraps and waste. The finished compost product can help enhance the soil and plant quality in school vegetable and flower gardens- acting as a buffer for storm water. Composting food wastes also saves water by reducing the water needed to run a garbage disposal. We can close the loop on the food system by diverting food waste from landfills and turning it back into soil to grow more food.

Energy Conservation

Water and energy are closely linked. A clean reliable water source consumes energy and water conservation leads to energy conservation. The clean water that flows out of a faucet needs energy in many stages of processing and transport before it gets to the tap. A system of pipes delivers water to the school, and in many systems, electric pumping is used to deliver the water at the proper level of pressure. The wastewater that flows away from the school must be transported to a wastewater treatment plant to be treated and released back into the natural water cycle. This also requires energy. The transportation of water is one of the most significant uses of energy in freshwater production. It is important to remember that when you conserve water, you conserve energy as well. Which leads to my next point… water conservation!

Water usage and conservation

Outdoors:

In a schools outdoor environment, a lot can also be done to reduce water use. Water-efficient landscaping helps a school conserve water outdoors. A school can maximize natural, native vegetative cover and limit lawn space. Most native plants can survive on the natural rainfall in the area since they are accustomed to the climate. Maintaining fields using drought tolerant grasses is also important. Consider planting more trees, shrubs, ground covers, and less grass. Shrubs and ground covers provide greenery for much of the year and usually demand less water.  Applying mulch around shrubs and flower beds can help them retain moisture. This reduces the amount of watering necessary to keep the ground moist. Adding compost or an organic matter to soil will improve soil conditions and water retention. Collecting rainfall for irrigation is another important step to ensure water conservation. Avoid using a hose to clean off school walkways. Rather, opt for a broom to clean walkways, driveways, and entrances.

Indoors:

At school or in your daily life, cutting down on water usage can save more water and make a bigger impact than you’d think. As stated earlier, schools use a large amount of water every day, and require water for their heating and cooling systems, restrooms, drinking water faucets, locker rooms, cafeteria, laboratories, and outdoor playing fields and lawns. To reduce water use in the school, consider replacing old equipment such as dishwashers with energy saving devices. Repair water leaks and leaky toilets. Installing sensor-operated sinks work well for kids because the faucets shut off automatically. Using water-efficient toilets, low-flow shower heads and timer shut-off devices to reduce water use during showers can dramatically reduce the amount of water consumed. Collecting excess water and using it later can also help to conserve water in the long run. For example, establishing a rain barrel or placing containers under school water fountains to use in the garden for later are some good ideas.

Student Involvement

Launch a water conservation awareness campaign within the school. Encourage your teachers and classmates to discuss the benefits of conserving water and ways the students can get involved in using less water. A water conservation poster contest allows all of the kids to take part in spreading the news. Choose the best designs and have them turned into permanent signs to hang in the restrooms. The signs serve as a reminder for students to conserve water. Assigning students the role of water monitors during busy restroom times also puts the responsibility in the hands of the students. Teachers can enhance their hydrology lesson plans with relevant, local environmental information. Schools can also take part in community clean-up events, Earth Week celebrations, and water related field trips/events to enforce the importance of water quality for their students. Communities can also organize a tree-planting event on school grounds, or organize a school-ground naturalization project to create opportunities for outdoor learning through hands-on experience.

Talk to your school’s staff and fellow classmates:

All students, teachers, administrators, cooks and janitors should ask themselves if there is a another way to do their job that will minimize waste and impaired water quality. For example, chefs in schools can be informed and avoid pouring fat from cooking or any other type of fat, oil, or grease down the drain. School chefs can try to purchase sustainable meats for school lunch as it is important to think about the impact of factory farms on our water supply. These farms produce huge amounts of waste, which ends up harming the nearby water supplies. Whenever possible, buying sustainable meats instead of those produced at factory farms will make a huge difference on the schools indirect water usage. Administration can come together to put more recycling and trash cans around the school as well as outside to prevent litter build up. It is also important that a schools community avoid disposing of hazardous chemicals or cleaning agents down the sink or toilet. Hazardous chemicals in schools can be found in cleaning supplies, aerosol cans, paints, science labs (mercury), art classrooms, janitors’ storerooms. Classes can also try to use less toxic glues, paints, markers, and other materials.

Stormwater Runoff:

What is Storm water?

When an area is developed, a large amount of impervious area, such as buildings and pavement, is introduced. When it rains, the water that once soaked into the ground is then carried into your ponds and lakes. If it is not managed properly, it can also lead to flooding. Additionally, the water carries pollutants with it, which are eventually carried into your streams, ponds, lakes, and the ocean. Stormwater has a large impact on the water quality and health of your environment.

How can you reduce Stormwater runoff at your school?

  • Parents and teachers can prevent their vehicle’s oil and other dangerous pollutants from leaking onto the schools nearby streets. Rain washes these materials from the streets into the nearest storm drain which is eventually carried into lakes and streams. Car owners can recycle used motor oil, maintain their vehicle to minimize leakage, avoid dumping any engine fluids, such as motor oil, antifreeze, or transmission fluid into storm drains, a ditch, or onto the ground. It is also important to clean up any spills as soon as possible.
  •  Planting native trees, shrubs, flowers, and other plants on the school’s property will act as a sponge for the environment and naturally soak up any runoff that is on its way to local waterbodies or storm drains.  It is important to use native plants as they more tolerant of drought conditions and need less water.
  • Building a rain garden can improve water quality in your school’s community and reduce storm-water by collecting and filtering runoff.
  • Installing a rain barrel can collect and store rainwater from your school’s roof that would otherwise be lost to runoff or diverted to storm drains and streams polluting the water. A rain barrel collects and stores water for when you need it most, such as during periods of drought, to water plants, wash your car and more.
  • Be aware of your schools disposal system for hazardous products such as for cleaning or chemicals used in chemistry/science classes. Hazardous chemicals, such as toxic cleaning products and experimental products, contain harmful substances. These chemicals usually make their way into drains, sinks, and toilets, which end up polluting nearby water bodies and the humans and wildlife that depend on them. Schools and teachers can contact their local sanitation, public works, or environmental health department to find out about hazardous waste collection days and sites or local recycling drop off options.
  • Decrease concrete, asphalt and hard surfaces around the school to reduce runoff and try to create landscapes with vegetation, gravel or other porous materials that will absorb rainwater.
  • Fertilizers and Pesticides: Fertilizers enrich the soil with nutrients necessary for plant growth and are used on most school grounds. Chemical or synthetic fertilizers are manufactured using man-made materials are not the best option for the environment. Pesticides are used on most school grounds to kill unwanted weeds or plants, and keep mosquitos, ticks, and other insects away.  Both fertilizers and pesticides have a negative impact on the environment and can pollute local water bodies. They are also toxic to humans, wildlife, aquatic invertebrates, and plants.  Pesticides contain neurological and reproductive toxins, which are dangerous to both children and adults. If the chemicals are applied incorrectly, or are allowed to run off into streams or storm drains, they actually fertilize the water and result in algae blooms. Algae blooms remove oxygen from water which can cause tragic fish kills and severe environmental damage. Garden pesticides can harm humans and pets too, with kids and pregnant women being at the highest risk for exposure. A school can still have great looking lawns and gardens without using harmful chemicals that affect the community’s health, water and wildlife. Schools can opt for more natural alternatives to chemical fertilizers such as composted manure, fish emulsions, alfalfa pellets, bone meal, and cottonseed meal. There are also many great sustainable alternatives to using chemical pesticides. It is important that schools get their soils tested, understand what products they are buying, consider alternatives, use the lawn products correctly, and dispose of the lawn care products efficiently so that they do not ultimately harm local water bodies. Schools should never dump leftover products down the drain or in the trash, as they will be carried directly to creeks. Schools should store leftover chemicals in a safe place until they can dispose of them at a hazardous waste drop off event, or give leftover products to other schools.
  • If your school is close to any streams or rivers, consider planting grass buffer strips or trees along the banks to protect water quality and prevent contaminants, such as fertilizers and pesticides used at your school, from entering the environment and traveling to other locations.

In summary, a school should think about controlling and reducing water runoff from its site, consume fresh water as efficiently as possible and recover and reuse gray water to the extent feasible because basic efficiency measures can reduce a school’s water use by 30% or more. It is also important to note that schools who provide educational opportunities create very valuable opportunities for hands-on learning and the potential to instill environmental values in future generations. These reductions and implementations help the environment, locally and regionally and lower a school’s operating expenses. The technologies and techniques used to conserve water – especially landscaping, education and outreach, water treatment, and recycling strategies – can be used to help instruct students about ecology and the environment.

 

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