10 Ideas for a Green School Year

Photo: Julie Magro/Flickr.

If you want to help make your child’s classroom and school more eco-friendly but you don’t know where to start, one of these ideas may help. My friends Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson from Celebrate Green sent me these tips to share with my readers, and chances are one of them will resonate with you.

They’ve got some good advice for starting out, too. Before you leap in, be sure to get support, buy-in and permission from the principal (for any ideas that would require it), and anyone else you might need buy-in from. Nothing will quash a program more quickly than a loud, "No!" after the fact.

1. Pack a No-Waste Lunch

Pack a lunch with no leftovers in food or packaging. Why use paper or plastic bags when you can substitute sustainable packaging like reusable cloth bags, stainless steel and yes, even glass containers, cloth napkins and reusable tableware. Be sure to talk with your child about the no-waste goal and encourage her to bring home anything she doesn't eat to snack on later in the day. (Include a cold pack in her lunch bag.)

2. Provide a Party Package

Offer teachers a box filled with reusable items for parties. Include napkins, plates, bowls, cups and flatware. If you're especially creative, you can even include decor items. Let the teacher know that you're willing to pick up everything after each party, take it home, clean and return it. Donate extras you have at home or purchase items inexpensively at a thrift store or ask each child's family to contribute one place setting.

3. Send Reusable Water Bottles

Avoid buying bottled water and sending children to school with it. Instead, fill a metal bottle with filtered water each night then put it in the freezer so your child has cold water to drink throughout the day.

4. Motivate Your Child's School to Become a "Green School"

There are many green schools initiatives across the country. Some may involve grants to schools that make changes like saving energy or creating and integrating sustainable curriculum. Talk to your school's parent-teacher group and the principal about the importance of this type of program to the students. You can learn more at any of these sites:

Collective Roots

Michigan Green Schools


Green Schools Initiative

Or how about nominating your school for a green makeover? Enter here.

5. Set up Cap Recycling Program

You might be shocked if you counted how many lids/caps you toss every year-twist tops and flip tops of all kinds. Unfortunately these often are not accepted in municipal recycling programs. But you can send or take them to Aveda or send them to the Caps Can Do program via Recycling is Cool. Set out a collection box, inform kids and parents and you'll be on your way to keeping thousands of plastic caps out of landfills.

6. Volunteer to Help Start a Garden

School gardens are catching on and for good reason. Kids tend to eat what they grow, cutting down on waste in lunchrooms and leading children down the path to healthier eating. Start small, with one class planting something that's easy to grow like lettuce. You could even grow it in pots if the school isn't willing to give up land (at first) for the project.

7. Set up a Worm Bin

Kids love worms. Worms love turning food waste into gorgeously perfect compost. It's a marriage made in heaven. Get instructions on the Internet and maybe approach the science teacher first with this idea. Worm castings fetch a pretty penny, so this green project could be turned into a money maker for the school!

8. Talk to Schools About Using Green Cleaning Products and Limiting the Use of Pesticides

When you walk into a building and can smell chlorine, that's not a good sign. There are so many strong cleaning products that do not contain harmful chemicals and that are not necessarily more expensive. Many school officials just aren't aware of the issues with chemically laden products. Educate them!

9. Volunteer to Do Art Projects Using Junk

So many elementary schools have lost their art instructors, and other teachers may be intimidated by the thought of teaching this subject. You can step in and offer to show kids how to make things from everyday objects that usually are tossed, from plastic bags to bottles and cans, paper, fabric, wire, wood, styrofoam. Even if you're not crafty yourself, the Internet is paradise when it comes to sparking ideas.

10. Ask the school to use low-odor dry-erase markers and dust-free chalk

Offer to purchase them for your children's teachers if cost is an issue.

Run with one or two of these ideas to help your kids and their school on the path to sustainability.


Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors of "Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family," available at www.CelebrateGreen.net.