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Consumption & Waste Pathway

consumption and waste iconThe United States is home to just 4.3 percent of the world's population; however it generates 30 percent of its trash. The average American creates a staggering 4.5 pounds of garbage daily. Almost everything we do creates waste, and as a society we are currently producing more waste than ever before.

Both consumption and waste have major environmental impacts. Producing goods and transporting them to consumers uses large quantities of fossil fuels and produces pollution, particularly carbon dioxide (the major greenhouse gas leading to climate change). When these products become waste, they are transported again—usually to landfills, where they produce methane (another potent greenhouse gas) as they break down—or to incinerators, which generate more pollution as they burn.

students recycling

A school can reduce its environmental impact by analyzing the full life cycle of the products it uses. Decreasing consumption, reducing packaging, and promoting alternatives to single-use plastics, as well as finding new uses for old materials, all translate into smaller amounts of waste being hauled away.

Fast Facts

Following the Framework

Utilize the Seven Step Framework to complete your pathway.

Step 1: Form an Eco-Action Team

The Eco-Action Team is the driving force behind Eco-Schools USA. Ideally, your Eco-Action Team should be representative of the whole school community—including people beyond the school walls, such as facilities staff, board members, and members of the greater community. Eco-Schools USA has developed a worksheet to help guide the development of this team.

Step 2: Conduct an Environmental Audit

The Environmental Checklist is an essential tool for understanding the current environmental situation in your school. It provides the basis for your Eco-Action Plan. Eco-Schools USA has developed an activity to get your students started.

In addition to the optional Environmental Checklist, pathway-specific audits allow teams to utilize a pathway-specific lens to dive deeper into problems and solutions, and provide the basis for the team’s Eco-Action Plan.

Consumption & Waste Audit

Step 3: Create an Eco-Action Plan

The action plan follows as the result of analysis and conclusions drawn from the Environmental Audit and sets forth a series of goals, actions, and a timeline for achieving environmental improvements.

1. To get started, preview the sample action plan for the Consumption & Waste pathway. This example is designed to be a springboard to developing the team’s own action plan.

2. Use the blank action plan to develop the team’s vision.

Sample Action Plan (K-5) | Blank Action Plan (K-5)
Sample Action Plan (6-12) | Blank Action Plan (6-12)

Step 4: Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Monitoring and evaluation are intrinsic elements of the action plan, helping to check progress toward goals, make adjustments for greater success, and validate that actions are making an impact.

Step 5: Link to Existing Curriculum

Enrich your classroom curriculum with Eco-Schools projects and activities.

Step 6: Involve the Community

Communities are made up of diverse perspectives. When students consistently and authentically work to include community members from all walks of life, not just the school community, they are gaining access to dynamic networks whose end goals are the same, making their place in this world happier and healthier.

Step 7: Create an Eco-Code

The Eco-Code is the school’s mission statement and should demonstrate—in a positive, inclusive, and imaginative way—the whole school’s commitment to improving their environmental performance.

Step 1: Form an Eco-Action Team

The Eco-Action Team is the driving force behind Eco-Schools USA. Ideally, your Eco-Action Team should be representative of the whole school community—including people beyond the school walls, such as facilities staff, board members, and members of the greater community. Eco-Schools USA has developed a worksheet to help guide the development of this team.

Step 2: Conduct an Environmental Audit

The Environmental Checklist is an essential tool for understanding the current environmental situation in your school. It provides the basis for your Eco-Action Plan. Eco-Schools USA has developed an activity to get your students started.

In addition to the optional Environmental Checklist, pathway-specific audits allow teams to utilize a pathway-specific lens to dive deeper into problems and solutions, and provide the basis for the team’s Eco-Action Plan.

Consumption & Waste Audit

Step 3: Create an Eco-Action Plan

The action plan follows as the result of analysis and conclusions drawn from the Environmental Audit and sets forth a series of goals, actions, and a timeline for achieving environmental improvements.

1. To get started, preview the sample action plan for the Consumption & Waste pathway. This example is designed to be a springboard to developing the team’s own action plan.

2. Use the blank action plan to develop the team’s vision.

Sample Action Plan (K-5) | Blank Action Plan (K-5)
Sample Action Plan (6-12) | Blank Action Plan (6-12)

Step 4: Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Monitoring and evaluation are intrinsic elements of the action plan, helping to check progress toward goals, make adjustments for greater success, and validate that actions are making an impact.

Step 5: Link to Existing Curriculum

Enrich your classroom curriculum with Eco-Schools projects and activities.

Step 6: Involve the Community

Communities are made up of diverse perspectives. When students consistently and authentically work to include community members from all walks of life, not just the school community, they are gaining access to dynamic networks whose end goals are the same, making their place in this world happier and healthier.

Step 7: Create an Eco-Code

The Eco-Code is the school’s mission statement and should demonstrate—in a positive, inclusive, and imaginative way—the whole school’s commitment to improving their environmental performance.

Sustainable Development Goals

goal 4 - quality education
Goal 10 - reduced inequalities
Goal 11 - Sustainable cities and communities
goal 12 - responsible consumption and production
goal 13 - climate action
goal 14 - life below water
goal 16 - peace, justice, and strong institutions
goal 17 - partnerships for the goals

Top 10 Tips to Reduce Consumption and Minimize Waste

The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place.

  • Just say “no” to straws and other single-use items.
  • Designate a supply closet where teachers can swap supplies and other items instead of purchasing new ones.
  • Include "want lists" in school newsletters to ask parents and other community members to donate useful items they no longer need.

  • Place trays for reusable paper in each classroom, office, copier room and anywhere else paper is used.
  • Make double-sided printing and photocopying routine. (Set printers to do this automatically.)
  • Encourage staff to save documents electronically rather than printing them.
  • Offer parents the option to receive all school communications by email, and post information on your school's website.

  • Ensure recycling bins are accessible and obvious.
  • Use colorful stickers and posters to clarify what does and does not go in the recycling bins.
  • Announce waste and consumption initiatives in school assemblies, staff meetings, newsletters, and on the website.
  • Hold class competitions to keep waste reduction prominent and fun.
  • Use bulletin boards and displays around the school to show progress.

  • Find out if reduced-cost or free composting bins are available through your recycling authority or local environmental groups.
  • Establish a food recovery program at your school.
  • Consider vermicomposting for cafeteria waste.
  • Incorporate composting activities into science lessons or after-school clubs.

  • Arrange for recycling bins and collection at your school.
  • Acquire information about items and materials that can be recycled in standard collections, special local collections and drop-off recycling sites in your area. (Visit earth911.com for details.)
  • Digitally promote behaviors and actions that result in zero- and reduced waste.
  • Invite experts to participate in activities and to share their ideas and passions.

  • Investigate whether you can make money by recycling steel and aluminum cans.

  • Many companies will collect old printer cartridges and mobile phones and give you money in return or donate funds to charity.
  • Donate unneeded computers and other electronic equipment to reuse organizations.

  • Look for printer paper, notebooks, pencils, binders and other products with a high percentage of recycled, post-consumer waste content.
  • Look for backpacks, totes, and other products made from recycled materials.

  • Provide mugs and glasses in the staff room instead of disposable cups.
  • Encourage students to bring lunch boxes and reusable drink bottles instead of throw-away bags and containers.
  • Strive for "zero-waste" special events by using washable dishes or compostable dishware.

  • Set up a "swap shop" to help parents exchange second-hand clothing and uniforms.
  • Reupholster or refinish furniture to prolong its life, and donate unneeded furnishings to local charities.
  • Hold a garage sale to raise funds for your Eco-Schools program.
  • Obtain upcycling bins for hard-to-recycle items such as used pens and pencils or other art supplies.