When we think about the major areas of concern for waste management, the big offenders spring to mind. Construction could be labelled destruction, it produces so much waste. Catering and hospitality are a cornucopia of garbage. Retail, particularly the grocery sector, leave almost as much behind as the customers take away.

And then there are the schools

Truth be told, schools are not massive producers of waste. But they are vital battlegrounds in the war on waste, and in our fight for a greener future.

There is an old native American proverb: “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

That sums up the situation perfectly. The generations following us are who we are doing all this for now. If we don’t avert a global catastrophe, it is them who will suffer, not us. We’ll be gone by the time the axe falls. And we need the next generation to be more clued in on the dangers than we were. That is why schools and education are key battlegrounds.

How can we manage waste in schools?

Education waste

First, we must recognise that the education sector is a vast field, but there are four broad categories. There is the creche and pre-school sector, primary schools, secondary schools, and third level institutions. And each produces different types of waste, and must rise to their challenges in different ways.

In pre-schools and creches the children are fed daily. A well-run creche will feed the children off real plates rather than disposable plates, because it is far kinder to the environment to wash rather than dump. Food will be managed so that there isn’t too much waste, and some of that waste can be composted. A preschool won’t produce much paper waste from copybooks, but there will be waste from craft work. At that early stage children can be encouraged to reuse old material for those crafts.

It is important at that stage to put as much waste as possible into recycling, and to encourage reuse. Those early lessons stick.

Moving on to primary and secondary school, the children will now be bringing in their own lunches. But they can be encouraged to use reusable packaging materials. Instead of wrapping their sandwiches in cling-film, they can use waxed cloth, available in most bigger grocery stores. It is more expensive initially, but pays for itself after a few months. The school needs to have compost bins available for disposing of food.

School children will be producing more paper waste as they go through the system. So recycling becomes increasingly important. A school could set up a scheme to encourage recycling of many items, including cans, aluminium, paper, etc. Make the children feel they are part of a project, and they will get onboard.

It is also vital to keep stock of supplies, so that items are bought infrequently and in bulk, to reduce packaging, and are used for as long as possible. It might also be worth considering how far the school can go towards being a paperless environment.

In third level institutions the challenges change again. A big university is almost a small town. There are thousands of people present, betweens staff and students, and there will be canteens, restaurants and bars, copy centers, retail outlets, printing works. It is very important for those institutions to take waste management seriously, and to have a monitored and ethical policy in place.

What are the benefits of waste management in education?

Reduce reuse recycle

Broadly, there are two benefits to waste management in education. The first is the benefit that accrues to any business – you can save money and improve your environment by clever management. The benefits to a university are the same as the benefits to a supermarket, a cafeteria, or an office block, because a university is all those things.

But the second benefit is less tangible and more important. When a generation of students are exposed to a green environment, with ethical waste management a priority, they will come to accept that as the norm. And they will bring those attitudes with them into their real life. And they will run their businesses accordingly.

Change needs to happen, and the best place to start that change is with the generation who will take over after us. They will be greener, cleaner, and better custodians of the planet than we were.

Waste management policy for schools

School waste blackboard

In a school the waste management policy must begin where it begins for any other major concern. You start with a waste audit, and then you come up with a plan to deal with that waste. At CEC we would be delighted to give you the resources to get on top of that – techniques to do the audit, software solutions to control the situation afterwards, and all the technical and knowledge supports that will help.

But a school’s waste management strategy has one important difference. You need to get everyone on board, particularly the students. This is not a job for one specialist team. This is a job for everyone, from the child learning his ABCs to the doctoral candidate about to put on her mortar board and gown for her graduation.

Some schools have carried out environmental projects, while others have gone for nationally recognised awards. These are good ways of building up a sense of pride and competitiveness, and getting everybody on board. The achievement of the school must be the achievement of everybody in the school. 

Schools can achieve zero waste to landfill certification and other tangible proofs of their green efforts. They don’t need to be a major contributor to the problem to be a major part of the solution.