Why Schools Should Lead ‘Reduce Reuse and Recycle’

When we think of how to be Eco-friendly, the phrase ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ is very well known. In terms of schools and education, shouldn’t it be the top schools in rich countries that are leading the way in how to implement these concepts? Instead we read of Eco-friendly schools being built in places like Guatemala and in the Philippines, where classrooms have been built using recycled building materials –plastic bottles, which are both cheaper and stronger than concrete, and have the added advantage of reducing landfill. How is that for leading the kids by example in how to reuse and recycle? Now I’m not saying we should build our schools out of plastic bottles, but there has to be something more that we can do.


It isn’t our place to reuse and recycle

Our ‘rich’ schools support schools in poorer countries by collecting second hand pencil cases, stationery and clothing to send to them; then we go out and buy brand new items for our own kids. Which is more environmentally friendly and sustainable? What lessons are we teaching our kids by doing this? The concept that recycled, upcycled and vintage is trendy has not yet spread through mainstream society. It is still a ‘fringe’ concept. However, schools should be the ideal ground to plant this seed of trendiness and necessity; to promote the idea that upcycled and recycled isn’t just for disadvantaged and poorer children and schools.

A report from the building of the ‘bottle’ school in the Philippines stated that each town in the Philippines produces enough plastic and glass bottle waste to build a new classroom every two weeks. So, this got me thinking; while we’re collecting supplies to send to poorer schools, perhaps we should collect our waste and send that so they can build more classrooms. Yes, that is a ridiculous idea, but really we’re sending them our ‘waste’ already; things we no longer want or can find a use for. These examples do go to show how much further ahead than us these ‘poorer’ schools can be in terms of the ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle' concept. Maybe we can learn from them as well as supporting them.

We used to be better at it

Many of us, or our parent’s generation, grew up reusing and recycling as a matter of necessity. Financially we couldn’t afford to continually buy new things, and so clothes and other things were handed down, mended, reused and repurposed. Now that we have become more affluent, to revert to those old methods may feel like a step backwards. Why should we reuse things when we can simply buy something fresh and new?

This concept has to not only be taught in schools but also be implemented in schools. Children need to be educated as to why this is a necessary step to take and not just told so. They need to be involved in the change. If kids are practically involved in making their schools more environmentally friendly, this will not only help them to really understand the concept but also give them ownership of the idea and encourage them to take those concepts and apply them at home and also throughout their own lives as they grow up and move on in the world.


So what can be done now?

Small things like composting lunch scraps, recycling papers, switching to energy efficient light bulbs and reusing waste for art projects are simple ways many schools are already leading children by example in eco-friendly ways. But schools need to step up and lead the way in changing people’s viewpoints and ideas about who needs to reuse and recycle. It is not an exclusive need for poorer countries and schools to use second hand equipment and supplies. Sure it’s nice to have brand new equipment and the latest technology, but it is also important to keep teaching our kids the dying arts of fixing, mending, reusing and recycling things before we run out of space for all the waste we are producing.

Think about it. Have you ever bought your kid a new pencil case, or clothes, while donating older ones to a charitable cause; then cursed at the cost of bringing a kid up these days? I’m not saying we should stop donating second hand equipment and supplies, but just that we should think more about what we’re teaching our kids when they start the new school year with brand new books, paper, pens, etc, and last year’s supplies get thrown away or passed on simply because they are from ‘last year’, not necessarily because they are worn out or finished. If they are being passed on to someone else to use, then they still have life left in them. Perhaps we could not only save ourselves some money but also save the environment a little by reducing what we are consuming and reuse more ourselves.


“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney

This kind of education is everyone’s responsibility but could be taught at schools to far more effect that it currently is by way of leading by example. Real change can begin with educating our children to look at things in a new way. We have to stop the limiting viewpoint that reusing and recycling is the domain of third world countries and of the poor. The concepts of reusing, recycling and upcycling need a marketing makeover to make them acceptable and trendy so that people begin to embrace these concepts and so start to forge a major change in the way our consumer society is heading and stop destroying our environment.


Jill Shepherd

About Jill Shepherd

Jill is a freelance writer and blogger based in the beautiful city of Cairns in Far North Queensland, Australia.

Jill Shepherd

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