The new school year starts soon! Returning to school is a great time to reconnect with friends as you prepare to learn new things after a summer away from classes. Until then, use these next few weeks to start or improve green habits!
Since our brains can most easily remember seven pieces of information at a time, give or take a couple, here are seven practices for a more sustainable planet to start out your school year.
Consider what you really need for the new school year. Do you really need a new backpack or binder this year? Are the products you plan to buy durable enough to make it through the year or longer?
Reduce waste created from lunches by replacing plastic bags and foil with cloth bags and durable containers. Plan meals at the beginning of each week. When you buy and cook in bulk, you can save money, packaging, and food waste.
Give new life to partially used supplies left over from past school years. Check your recycling bin for materials that could be used further before recycling them. If your clothing from last year is worn out, Threadcycle it by donating it to a local thrift store. Shop for clothes first at thrift stores before buying them new. Remember, these used items will be new to you!
For items you do need to buy, look for recycled products. For example, paper and pencils certified by the Forest Stewardship Council ensure that wood products come from responsibly managed forests. Remember that for recycling to work, customers need to buy products with recycled content.
Make your commute to school low-impact
Plan ahead to commute via carpool, bus, bicycle, or on foot if possible. For safety, bike or walk with local buddies. King County has great resources for finding carpools and buses near you. Ask your school if it provides carpooling resources.
Join your local Buy Nothing group
Buy Nothing groups were created a few years ago on Bainbridge Island, WA as a way for neighbors to give, share, and ask for items rather than buy and sell them. They have been so successful they’ve spread not just across the country but the world. They create community with neighbors, help save money, and reduce waste. If you have specific back-to-school needs, check your local Buy Nothing group. Note that membership in these groups is limited to adults.
Spread the word to your community
Through social media, school newsletters, and neighborhood gatherings with friends, share this post to start the conversation about your back-to-school waste prevention plans.
What’s your favorite way to begin a green school year?
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Which people inspire you in your daily life? Are environmental heroes among them? Here’s a quiz on a few environmental heroes. You can find out more about them and the contributions they’ve made in the Answer section at the bottom. But first, take the quiz!
1. Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist, conservationist, and author who lived from 1907 to 1964. What is the name of her most famous book, published in 1962, which helped inspire the grassroots environmental movement and the banning of the pesticide DDT?
a. Somber Waters
b. Communities of Trees
c. Silent Spring
d. Acidic Oceans
2. Which federal agency hired Rachel Carson as only the second woman to serve in a professional, full-time position?
a. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
b. Bureau of Land Management
c. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
d. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
3. Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan environmental and political activist who lived from 1940 to 2011. In 1977, she founded the Green Belt Movement, which encouraged and empowered rural women to plant trees to restore the soil and provide food and fuel. How many trees has the GBM planted in Kenya to date?
a. More than one million
b. More than 10 million
c. More than 25 million
d. More than 50 million
4. Which significant award did Professor Wangari Maathai win, making her the first African woman to receive it?
a. United Nations Champion of the Earth Award
b. The Nobel Peace Prize
c. SEED African Award
d. Most Sustainable NGO
5. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a well-known science communicator and author who lives in NYC. What is his primary field of study?
a. Climate science
b. Marine biology and ecosystem science
c. Astrophysics and cosmology
d. Chemistry and soil science, as applied to sustainable agriculture
6. Majora Carter is an environmental activist whose work began in her native South Bronx. She founded Sustainable South Bronx in 2001, a nonprofit that does environmental justice work. What does environmental justice work seek to provide?
a. Equal access for all to the decision-making process on environmental issues
b. Fair treatment of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income in the enforcement of environmental policies
c. Equitable protections from environmental health hazards for all
d. All of the above
- C (Here’s more on the story of Rachel Carson’s book.)
- A (Read about the legacy of Rachel Carson from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
- D (Here’s a link to the Green Belt Movement website)
- B (Read more about Wangari Maathai’s life in her autobiography)
- C (Read an interview with Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s on his life’s work)
- D (Watch Majora Carter’s Ted Talk)
Did you learn something new? Who are some of your heroes?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Summer is an exciting time to explore the world around you. An easy way to do that is through books, especially ones about the environment! Join a local summer reading program to increase the fun with the chance of prizes. The adults in your household can play the Seattle Arts and Lectures Summer Book Bingo. Take a field trip with your family or friend to a local park, and read with a view! Books of all kinds – fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, picture books, non-fiction, and others –can help us gain new perspectives on our world. Here are some suggestions for your summer reading on environmental themes. Book descriptions are taken directly from the websites referenced.
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, 1982
As a child, great-aunt Alice Rumphius resolved that when she grew up she would go to faraway places, live by the sea in her old age, and do something to make the world more beautiful–and she does all those things, the last being the most difficult of all. Ages 4-9.
Raven by Gerald McDermott, 2001
Raven, a Pacific Coast Indian trickster, sets out to find the sun. The physical environment, oral literature, and traditional life of the Pacific Coast Indians come alive in this amusing and well-conceived picture book. Ages 4-10.
Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prevot, 2015
Wangari Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts to lead women in a nonviolent struggle to bring peace and democracy to Africa through its reforestation. Her organization planted over thirty million trees in thirty years. This beautiful picture book tells the story of an amazing woman and an inspiring idea. Ages 7-10.
A North American Rain Forest Scrapbook by Virginia Wright-Frierson, 1999
Presented in the form of a scrapbook, this book describes the author’s exploration of a temperate rain forest in North America, located in Washington State, and the plants and animals she found there. Ages 7-11.
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, 1999
Omakayas, a seven-year-old Native American girl of the Ojibwa tribe, lives through the joys of summer and the perils of winter on an island in Lake Superior in 1847. Ages 9-12.
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, 2002
In his first novel for a younger audience, Carl Hiaasen plunges readers right into the middle of an ecological mystery, made up of endangered miniature owls, the Mother Paula’s All-American Pancake House scheduled to be built over their burrows, and the owls’ unlikely allies–three middle school kids determined to beat the screwed-up adult system. Ages 10 and up.
Nobody Particular: One Woman’s Fight to Save the Bays by Molly Bang, 2000
Diane Wilson is an independent shrimper in Texas, where she ekes out a living in the same waters that her family has worked hard in for generations. When Diane learns that the chemical plants in Texas give out more pollution than in any other state, she decides to stop them. Told in graphic novel format. Ages 11 and up.
Sage Carrington, Eighth-Grade Science Sleuth by Justin Scott Parr, 2012
Best friends Sage Carrington and Isabel Flores are making the most of their summer break when they discover an antique treasure map near the Washington Monument. But when faced with difficult clues and a bully in the form of Edwin Hooser, the tween girls must use every bit of imagination, drive, and intellect to outsmart Edwin and decipher the map. Ages 8-12.
The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd, 2009
In 2015, England becomes the first nation to introduce carbon dioxide rationing in a drastic bid to combat climate change, and sixteen-year-old Laura documents the first year of rationing as her family spirals out of control. Ages 13 and up.
How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet, 2008
T., a young developer with a reverence for money and the institutions of capital, has just fallen in love for the first time when his orderly, upwardly mobile life is thrown into chaos by the appearance of his unbalanced mother, who comes to live with him after his father’s sudden desertion. In the wake of a series of devastating losses, T. begins to nurture a curious obsession with vanishing species, and is soon breaking into zoos at night to be with animals that are the last of their kind. Adult fiction.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, 2003
Bill Bryson is a popular author both for his travel books and for his books on the English language, and turns his attention to science. Although at first he doesn’t know anything about the subject, he is eager to learn, and takes information that he gets from the world’s leading experts, then explains it to us in a way that makes it exciting and relevant. Adult non-fiction.
Happy Tales to you! What are some of your favorite books about science and the environment?
Help people, salmon, and wildlife
Water is a precious resource, but in the often misty and river-rich Pacific Northwest, it can seem like we have an endless supply. While we are doing better than many regions, we still need to use water with awareness and foresight. Climate change is warming our region, making temperatures, storms, and rainfall more variable. With our growing population, we need to build a sustainable home by conserving resources like water. Conserving water saves money and time, as well as energy, since the water we use must be pumped, treated, and sometimes heated. Here are some simple ways to integrate water conservation into your summer and year-round.
• Wash only full loads in the dishwasher and washing machine.
• Place a large bucket in the sink when washing dishes or vegetables to collect excess water that can be used later to water plants.
• When washing dishes by hand, don’t let the water run. Instead, fill one basin with wash water and the other with rinse water.
• Soak pots and pans for easier cleaning later.
• Keep a bottle of drinking water in your refrigerator or on the counter, instead of running the tap.
• Fix leaks promptly! Little drips can waste lots of water.
• Install a bottle to displace water in your toilet tank if you have an older model. This will reduce the amount of water that your toilet is flushing away.
• Replace your showerhead with a low-flow model.
• Capture shower warm-up water. Use it to water plants or wash the floor.
• Turn off the faucet while brushing teeth or shaving.
This time of year, more than 40 percent of home water consumption takes place outdoors!
You can save a lot of water by not watering your lawn. Lawns without water typically go brown in June or early July, but they green up again in September or October. If you do water your lawn, reduce the number of watering days per week and seek non-toxic alternatives to weed killers and chemical fertilizers.
Lawnless in Seattle
Completely removing or reducing your lawn not only saves water, but can ultimately save time in terms of yard care. Xeriscaping a yard with plants that have low water requirements eliminates the need for frequent watering. Plants native to our region, such as service berry and kinnikinnick, are ideal for xeriscaping since they thrive in this climate.
Do water your drought tolerant species during the first two summers after planting to help them get established. If possible, water plants in the morning to best reduce water loss from evaporation.
Savvy car washing
Take your family car to a carwash to avoid excessive water use and soapy runoff into storm drains. Commercial carwashes typically reuse water several times before it’s sent to a treatment plant. They are fun to experience from inside a car! Or, visit a self-service car wash that’s hooked up to a sanitary sewer.
Talk about conserving water with your family and friends. Share your ideas and learn what others are doing!
How will you spend your summer vacation? Now that school is out, you can enjoy the freedom of no assignments, deadlines, or early wake-up calls. Whether you’re staying at home, doing activities outdoors, or traveling with your family, don’t forget the four Rs – rethink, reduce, reuse, and recycle. Keep your Green Team habits strong over the summer. Here are some tips for low- or no-waste summer activities.
Pack a zero-waste picnic
Have you ever noticed how much waste there can be after a family picnic or birthday party? It takes only a little planning to have a gathering that has all the fun without the waste.
• Whenever possible, use simple cloth napkins plus durable plates and utensils.
• Ask your guests to bring their own plates, cups, and utensils.
• Clearly label bins or bags for recycling and composting at the event.
• Have containers ready to store leftovers.
• Buy food in bulk or large sizes to reduce waste from packaging.
Don’t forget to take a group photo to share with friends about your fun, zero-waste picnic!
Bring things that are green
These easy, small steps will keep your waste low.
• Pack reusable snack bags of fruit, nuts, and other healthy snacks that travel well.
• Bring your reusable water bottle.
• Bring a cloth bag for food and souvenir purchases.
Using public transport or traveling on your own energy can reduce your environmental impact, and also allows you to meet neighbors and locals. You can experience cultures in a slower, more present way when you avoid car travel.
• Take a walking tour to enjoy the nice weather.
• If time allows, plan a walk to a destination to which you typically drive. Maybe you’ll discover a fun shop or interesting view you hadn’t noticed before.
• View neighborhoods and countryside by bicycle.
• Try train travel for longer distances and watch the countryside out the window or meet the travelers seated near you.
• When traveling to another town, city, or country, learn how their recycling and waste disposal is the same or different from yours.
• Plan a hike in King County with this map of all our parks.
Do you live in the Puget Sound area, want to hike, but don’t have a car? Check out TOTAGO, which stands for “Turn off this app, go outside.” It’s a free Android and web app for planning trips accessible by public transit. It can find the right bus routes and hiking trails for your interests and location.
Let us know in a comment what you are excited about doing this summer! How will you keep a low waste profile while having fun?
What can schools do to reduce end-of-school-year waste and improve recycling? Everyone at school – students, staff, faculty, and custodians – has a role. A school green team or environmental club can lead some of the following activities that help a school stay true to its waste reduction commitment all year.
Hold a “zero waste” locker clean-out
- Designate a day for students to clean out their lockers and sort the contents for swapping, reusing, donating, and recycling so that as little as possible is thrown away.
- Let the custodians know of your plans so they can be aware of the effect on garbage and recycling containers.
- Gather some boxes (ask the kitchen staff) and label them “Swap or Reuse,” “Donation,” and “Recycle.” Make the swap boxes more specific by separating out spaces for pencils and pens, notebooks, teacher supplies, and other items.
- Find a teacher, staff member, or parent who will take the materials for donation as well as any leftovers from the swap to an appropriate site. (Try your local Goodwill.)
- Assign students to take the materials for recycling to a central or outdoor bin.
- Plan a school supply swap day among teachers for a subsequent day.
Organize a school supply swap
- Suggest to staff a swap of school supplies and find a day that works for most classes.
- Plan the big day to follow a locker or cubby clean-out.
- Decide upon the best space in which to organize the event in your school (gym, hallway, classroom, or library).
- Determine whether students and teachers participate, or just one of these groups.
- Take any leftover materials to a donation center (coordinate with the locker clean-out).
Set garbage and recycling service to “on call” to save money over the summer
- Rather than a regularly scheduled pick-up, the school calls the garbage and recycling haulers when the outdoor containers are full. The name of the service provider and telephone number can be found on the outdoor containers to request this on-call service.
- You may want to have the following information from your school to provide to the hauler: name on account, account number, dates for service hold, phone number, and email.
Find a good summer home for your worm bin
- Harvest the compost from the worm bin and add it to the school garden.
- Find a responsible student or staff member to take the bin home and manage it for the summer.
- Once or twice per week, the worms should be fed vegetable and grain food scraps (no meat, dairy, or oily foods).
Donate food from school kitchens
- Ask kitchen staff to identify food whose use-by dates will occur over the summer.
- Contact a local nonprofit with a food recovery program, such as Food Lifeline or Harvest Northwest.
- Coordinate a pick-up of food donations using these guidelines.
Congratulations on your waste reduction progress this school year. Have a wonderful summer!
What do English ivy, salmon, and salal have in common? They all affect biodiversity in King County in important ways!
Sunday, May 22, is the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB), as proclaimed by the United Nations. The theme for this year is Mainstreaming Biodiversity; Sustaining People and their Livelihoods. It honors the fact that biodiversity is essential to peoples’ livelihoods in all ways, including jobs within agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism, among others.
What is biodiversity? The book Precious Heritage: the Status of Biodiversity in the United States give the following definition: “Biodiversity is composed of species, the genes they contain, the communities and ecosystems they form, and the processes that connect them.”
Why is biodiversity important? Biodiversity increases ecosystem productivity. For example, the greater the number of plant species, the great variety of crops. More species diversity means healthier ecosystems which means a greater ability to resist disease and survive disaster. All of human life ultimately depends on biodiversity.
If you could step back in time about 150 years, you would see that almost all of the developed areas in King County were covered with either forest or wetland. Much of downtown Seattle was a big estuary. Everything was wildlife habitat! Today, the urban environments are getting larger, so people, animals, and plants continually need to find ways to live together. We have many species in King County, including about 220 species of breeding and non-breeding birds, between 70 and 80 mammal species, about 70 species of fish in freshwater, and an amazing 1,249 species of identified plants.
In celebration of International Day of Biodiversity, take a walk in your neighborhood and explore the native species near you. The King County Native Plant Guide is a fun resource full of photos you can match to what you discover. Here are some ideas of what to look for on your personal scavenger hunt:
- Oregon grape
- Bald hip rose
- Lady fern
- Western red cedar
- American robin
- Dark-eyed junco
- White-throated sparrow
- Northern flicker
- Eartern gray squirrel (introduced from the Eastern U.S.)
- Northwestern garter snake
Unfortunately, there are many invasive species in King County that take over land and water space. Invasive species, such as English ivy and gold fish, are typically non-native plants or animals that are highly competitive with native species, such as salal and salmon, and are often difficult to control or eliminate. This page discusses in more detail how invasive species affect biodiversity.
Middle and high school teachers can arrange for a classroom workshop on biodiversity for their students. The interactive workshop answers the questions, “What is biodiversity and why is it important for survival on Earth? How do our shopping and waste disposal choices affect biodiversity?” Students actively engage in a discussion of real-world issues such as habitat protection, population growth, and climate change.
King County hosts many work parties and events where you can help maintain our local biodiversity. As the weather turns warmer, find ways to get outside and volunteer!
Did you know that Mother’s Day has its roots in the 1850s, when women in West Virginia made time to pause, honor their mothers, and seek peace in their community?
Mothers, peace, and community are all cause to celebrate. What better way than with green gift-giving ideas that also honor Mother Earth?
Give Earth-friendly gifts
For this Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8, here are some ideas for environmentally friendly gifts for the mothers and mentors in your life:
- Fair trade chocolate. Look for Fair Trade brands.
- Local, organic flowers. Try visiting your local farmer’s market.
- A plant for your home, yard, or container garden
Consider giving experiences rather than stuff. The stuff in our lives takes energy to create and uses energy when we throw it away or recycle it. Experiences are ways to honor a special person in your life. They build relationships and memories, usually without leaving much waste behind. Research shows that experiences bring us more happiness than possessions do. Anticipation of the experience and the memories it creates are the source of that happiness. Give some happiness for Mother’s Day and make memories for the future!
- Plant a garden together. Seattle Tilth offers many resources and opportunities for kids, teens, and adults to learn about gardening.
- Enjoy a walk in a King County park and have a picnic with a view. Visit one of King County’s pesticide-free parks.
- Find a performance of local musicians and listen to some music together.
- Take a dance lesson or attend a social dance.
- Visit a museum together.
- Write a card to your mother telling her why you appreciate her and include a favorite photo of the two of you. Send one to your grandmother or a mentor in your life.
Plant a tree
King County has a goal to plant One Million Trees in King County by 2020. You can help! Trees provide habitat for native creatures and keep our air fresh with oxygen. King County invites every individual and community group throughout the county to join this campaign – whether you’re planting a street tree outside your home or organizing a volunteer work party at your company, everyone can make a difference. Until May 13, you have the opportunity to enter a drawing for two tickets to a concert in Marymoor Park.
Have a happy Mother’s Day! We’d love to hear about your experiences and other ideas on this topic. Share how you choose to celebrate in the comments below!
Earth Day is April 22. Celebrate the earth with an environmental activity. Consider a field trip, an in-class project, a take-home activity, or class presentations. Here are some project ideas and resources.
Projects and activities
- Read a book about pollution or the environment. Create a poster, book report, or other display about the important messages in the book.
- Create a nature scrapbook from your local area. Add pictures or plant samples and label them.
- Be a reporter. Make a video with you or your friends acting as news reporters on environmental issues. Highlight ways “viewers” can help.
- Figure out how much trash your family is creating in a day or a week. Make sure recyclables and compostable are being properly sorted out. Make a list of ways to reduce the amount of waste in your household.
- Conduct an interview with an environmentalist. Find out what you can do to protect the area where you live.
- Take a walk in a public area and pick up trash. Make a poster, video, or other display to encourage others to keep the environment clean.
- It’s National Poetry Month! Write a poem about recycling, our rivers and streams, or local plants and wildlife.
- The Power of Green – An interactive website about energy conservation for grades K-8.
- Recycling: Everything You Need – Activities, lessons, articles, and more on recycling.
- Kids’ Environmental Report Card – Kids can write e-cards to raise awareness about the environment.
- Endangered Ecosystems – An activity about animals in endangered environments.
- My Clean & Green Community – A digital storybook and environment lessons from Keep America Beautiful.
And don’t forget to take the Family Fun quiz!
March 30 is Take a Walk in the Park Day. Celebrate with a walk in one of King County’s many pesticide-free parks.
Pesticide-free parks offer a safer play environment for young children who are especially vulnerable to many kinds of chemicals. To find out which parks near you are pesticide-free, use the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program’s map. You can search by zip code or city.
Why be concerned about pesticides in parks? Young children are especially vulnerable to many kinds of harmful chemicals. They eat, drink, and breathe more per pound of body weight than adults do. Their organs and systems are continuously developing as they grow. Chemical exposure can have lifetime effects.
Pesticides also endanger our environment. Rain carries pesticides into local waterways, where salmon, water bugs, and water quality can be affected. Chemicals meant for pests can also harm bees and other beneficial insects. Pets may also be affected or poisoned by pesticides, and they may carry pesticides into the home on their feet and fur.
At home, consider taking the following actions:
- Try natural yard care techniques to create an attractive lawn and garden with less pesticide use.
- Choose the least toxic yard and garden products with Grow Smart, Grow Safe.
- Read labels and use fewer hazardous chemicals.
- Buy safer toys and art supplies.
Also, ask your school or childcare center about its pesticides-use policy.