Stepping up sustainability for the new school year is easy

By Michelle Metzler

By Michelle Metzler

A monthly column about the world of recycling, diversion and sustainability seen through the eyes of Michelle Metzler, Waste Management, Public Education and Outreach

Fall is finally here. The leaves are turning yellow and red; families and teachers are settling in with back-to-school schedules. It’s the perfect time to make reducing, reusing, and recycling part of new routines at home and school.

Snoqualmie Elementary School is already taking a fresh approach to greening up the classroom. The school’s Green Team worked with the district to eliminate plastic silverware, clam shells and polystyrene bowls from its lunchroom, among other big projects. The Snoqualmie Valley School District also adopted two math programs that allow students to complete tests and assignments online. Snoqualmie Elementary received a King County Earth Hero at School award in April 2009.

If your school isn’t connected already, get involved in the Washington Green Schools program, which provides schools with the support and resources “to empower the next generation of environmental leaders.”

Certification is a six-step process that begins with organizing a Green Team and assessing improvement opportunities. Certification is free and certified schools earn recognition, rewards, and other special opportunities. More than 400 schools in Washington are already certified. Learn more at

Another energizing way to step up sustainability at school is to tap community resources. Host an assembly about waste reduction and recycling, and invite local green leaders to share their success stories. Or, take a field trip to Waste Management’s Cascade Recycling Center in Woodinville. A visit to the recycling center provides an up-close look at how Waste Management uses the latest technologies — magnets, air jets, optical sorters — to reduce what goes to landfills. To schedule a visit, email

Sustainability doesn’t stop there. Although students are now spending most of their time at school, going green starts with making healthier choices at home.

In the United States, up to 40 percent of food is wasted every year. Instead of becoming a statistic, pack a waste-free lunch to bring to school. You will reduce waste, save money, and maybe eat healthier. A waste-free lunch means using a reusable lunch box and containers, rather than buying bags that you’ll throw away every day. This also goes for cloth napkins, silverware, and drink containers.

It’s also a good idea to take a few minutes to refresh your recycling routine at home. Adjust signs and improve organization so putting the right materials in the right containers is quick and easy in every room. If you need to replace signs on containers, you can print out picture posters from the Waste Management website at Just click and then scroll down to find your community.

So, yes, fall is here and it means new, busy schedules. This year, let’s embrace it as a time to start new routines that make real and lasting change in our community and the world.