By now, everyone around the country has gone back to school. Time to flock over to the nearest superstore and get all of your heavy binders and new supplies. But wait -- think about doing things the green way first. Do you have any supplies from last year that you hardly used? Consider reusing those supplies instead of buying new ones. If you have to buy something, there are many recycled products that are good options. Speaking of reusable products, packing lunches in reusable boxes can save the planet in two different ways. First, sandwich bags require energy to create and use landfill space when done. A reusable box can cut energy consumption, landfill space, and save you money. It's worth the effort to wash it out and use it again. The same goes for your drinks. A reusable bottle is an easy way to save the planet's resources. It doesn't have to be just water in those bottles; iced tea or drink packets are other options.
Paper is a source of waste in many schools, so let's work to reduce the amount we use in the first place. Think twice before hitting print, and if you do, print essays on a double-sided sheet of paper to save trees. Recycle in the classroom and treat your textbooks with care so they don't need to be replaced. Every little action helps.
September is also a good time to see ways you can help improve your school. If you see something you don't like, such as trees being cut down for no apparent reason, or lights and computers left on overnight, you have the ability to speak up. Say something! Adults should be happy to answer any questions you may have. Many schools have lowered their energy costs by turning off computers at a certain time, and others have improved their air quality by shutting off the buses in the school parking lots when waiting for the students to arrive. Some students in Miami got together to do an energy audit. Based on what they discovered, they were able to make changes to their school buildings, saving their school thousands of dollars each year. That's great for the planet and puts money into the education programs instead.
Some birds are doing something similar. September is a busy month for them, storing up berries and food to last the long, harsh winter in the north. Or they are beefing up for the long and perilous migration to the south. Autumn is a great time to see tropical birds on their way back to the south. You also see all the new fledglings that are making their first trip. Keep your feeders filled and binoculars nearby -- you never know when a warbler starts singing! Keep your lights off at night to help them navigate using constellations. To avoid window collisions for birds, hang up your artwork on windows from art class to help with that as well.
So as you load up your backpack, keep our planet in mind. The three R's of "writing, reading, and 'rithmatic'" can be easily replaced with, "reduce, reuse and recycle."
Olivia Bouler, author of Olivia's Birds: Saving the Gulf (Sterling Children's Publishing) visiting a local recycling station.