He's also calling for folks to go paperless for Earth Day.
I can dig that.
The Clean Air Council produces my favorite image demonstrating what American paper waste looks like: "Each year, Americans trash enough office paper to build a 12-foot wall from Los Angeles to New York City."
Furthermore, paper production is a problem twice over: because excess carbon dioxide is released during the initial harvesting of the trees, and methane is released once paper winds up in the landfill.
Now there are those cynics who will say that the energy consumption and toxicity produced by discarded computers and consumer electronics is just as bad as paper waste. And while currently, paper waste dwarfs the waste produced by electronics, certainly they have a point that we're dealing with bad situations on both ends.
And so the solution can not merely be recycling. The solution -- on both fronts -- has to by source reduction.
And, as the EPA notes: "source reduction is waste prevention".
According to that agency:
Recycling one ton of paper would
But not using the paper to begin with would do so much more.
- Save enough energy to power the average American home for six months.
- Save 7,000 gallons of water.
- Save 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one metric ton of carbon equivalent (MTCE).
Schools are notorious hotbeds for paper waste. I've seen estimates of 40% of school waste being paper. The Clean Air Council states that each American blows through an average of 650 pounds of paper a year. I'm sure teachers bear a higher average.
As for the electronics waste side of the argument, we consumers should be insisting that manufacturers build 'shell-based' modular computers and mobiles that allow for the easy swap out of old individual components for new while being extra-durable and maintaining the life of the device itself for far longer than anything currently on the market. And we should be demanding (with our pocketbooks) that the companies themselves assist in electronics recycling programs that actually recycle the material components like lead and mercury in safe ways and refrain from shipping junked machines to third-world countries to poison the children of the poor who scavenge them for metals.
As for what we can do in our classrooms, Steve and I are asking that as teachers you pledge to refrain from using any paper or accepting any work on paper this Earth Day (April 22nd). And as for old machines: use Freecycle, support non-profit recycling programs like the National Cristina Foundation, and let's make a difference.
I've started a Google Doc where you can sign your name and pledge to commit to go paperless on April 22.
And remember: Source reduction is the best form of conservation. So think about what you print, what you buy, and how you recycle. Teachers and students together can make a difference.