I have chosen to look at schools, not to be controversial, not to be punitive, but as a means of understanding some of our climate and environment black holes. If we could come up with solutions, the impact would be huge!
Many schools have a walking bus. This is a fabulous idea. It cuts down on road accidents, parking disputes, hassle of finding parking and is overall, much better for our environment. Children should be exercising regularly and a walking school bus is a fantastic way to achieve many goals. However, what about other school practices? Are we being hypocritical to teach about environmental impact whilst contributing to it?
Within the curriculum this year, children will be learning about food chains, habitats and the effects of deforestation on the rainforest. Fantastic! Now, let’s take a look at the classroom walls. In some schools they are bare, others have hessian fabric and others will be backed with paper. What about the things posted on the boards – are they paper too or are they laminated so that they can be used again and again even though they will never decompose?
Children will in Years 2 and 6 sit standardised tests. A lot will go into their learning, listening, learning, hard graft, resources – a lot of resources, mainly paper. We are in the 21st century and yet the photocopier will be one of the most utilised machines in the school – that and the printer. Isn’t that astounding? Many classrooms have a waste paper basket, but have paper in nearly every corner and crevice of the room. The shelves, trays, cupboards and on the tables and work surfaces.
Let’s do some Maths as we’re talking about schools. In the junior years children will learn at least 10 subjects – Maths, English, Science, History, Geography, Music, Modern Foreign Languages, PE, RE, Art and Design Technology. Some schools will combine History, Geography and Design Technology in one book. Music, PE and MFL will largely be off the hook. (A range of photographs might be taken and uploaded onto the school’s social media.) That will be possibly 6 separate subject books, 7 if there is a separate book for handwriting. Most classes have approximately 30 children. 30 multiplied by 6 is 180 books per year (210 if handwriting is in a separate book). A child will probably have exercise books from being in Year 1, and will receive new sets for the next 6 years. 180 x 6 = 1080 books for a generation of school children in primary school alone, 36 per pupil (42 if there are 7 books) in their life at primary school.
That is in one school. There were approximately, 4.2 million pupils in primary school in 2012. That means that during the lifetime of this generation, approximately 4,536,000,000 exercise books were written in – just exercise books. It’s scary when we consider the amount of paper used on exercise books. I don’t write this to be controversial, but I do write this to be conscious of what we are using. That’s without calculating the other resources we use.
I know that some teachers and school leaders will look at this and ask themselves – what can we do? Paperless isn’t really a feasible option for schools. Learning needs to take place. Children need to practise their skills somewhere. Teachers need to be able to refer back to a child’s learning to grasp their understanding. However, there must be something that we can improve on, and if you have solutions I’d love to hear them.