Monday, May 25, 2009

Wasted Paper

Schools are notorious for paper waste. Computers were supposed to decrease the amount of paper we use, but that hasn't panned out in the slightest as people print draft after draft of their work. At my school, we use more than a tree's worth of paper every day.

Much of our paper comes from the boreal forests in Canada. This is an area where many specific kinds of songbirds come to mate. We're responsible for the destruction of this habitat. And we're role models for the students, inadvertently teaching them that it's okay to use paper wastefully, that we have some kind of entitlement to it. We can't really complain about logging practices if we're wasting so much paper.

If we care about birds, or animals, or trees, or greenhouse gases, or accumulating air pollution, or hiking, or teaching sustainable living, or breathing, we have to stop using so much paper. We need to get to a place where a quarter of a page unused becomes unthinkable. Paper, like water, has to be viewed as the precious commodity it really is.

Here's some suggestions for administration, teachers, and students...

Teachers get a ton of paper from administration that could all be e-mailed to us. There are some concerns with this suggestion. Many teachers need to be e-mailed and have a paper copy. They won't pay attention otherwise because we're bombarded with messages. And if they're just e-mailed, they might print off the e-mail anyway in order to have a paper copy.

Well, we stopped people using paper plates and cups at staff meetings by no longer making them an option. Done. There was a short learning curve, then people learned to cope and started remembering their own dishware. If teachers were told they'd just be e-mailed information, and get nothing on paper, they'd learn to start paying attention to e-mails. They'd soon realize there will no longer be a back-up copy coming in their mail slots, and they'd have to start paying attention to every message. That's my theory anyway.

Perhaps to stop teachers printing every e-mail, we can tag them with "save a tree, don't print this e-mail." Do we really need to print off the entire exam schedule to record which days our exams are on? I hope not.

A big issue we have is single-sided paper. If you're only printing a single side, cut copying in half by setting the printer to double side, and on the second side, flip the page upside down. Then cut the pages in half. Other single-sided pages can be copied on re-use-it (good-one-side) paper.

There's a bigger issue here, I think. People are very proud of their handouts. They like them pretty and well-spaced and colourful. I'm not convinced pretty handouts further reading at the secondary level. My guess would be that the colourful handouts end up crumpled in the bottom of a knapsack about as fast as the handouts copied on re-use-it paper. We have to get over ourselves a bit.

Other ways to reduce use by teachers: Think twice before making a handout - consider whether this information could be understood equally well by being discussed aloud with a few points added on the board as a short note. Send lesson handouts electronically. Collect handouts at the end of each unit to use again. Copy the exact number needed and put names on handouts for absent students so you can be sure each got a copy and nobody got two. If students lose a copy, they have to make their own from a friend. Use the blackboard or overhead. Widen the margins of the page. Copy on legal size paper, both sides, rather than three standard pages. Buy hemp paper using class donations. Reduce the text size and fit four pages on one page.

Some ways to reduce use by students: Give them bonus marks if their work is double sided. Only provide re-use-it paper for quizzes or worksheet questions. Encourage projects to go on used sheets of Bristol board. Have them submit work electronically. Peer edit work in a computer lab by trading computers to edit. In my classes, I collect work at the beginning of the period, but if they send it electronically, they have until midnight that night.

How do we make sure these things happen? Dare I suggest that we each be given a limited amount of paper to use each month and/or a limited number of print credits? Currently we've had our overheads limited and that's really forced us to take greater care with our use of them. If we each had a few reams of paper to use for the term, we might think twice about that ten-paged reading assignment.

We're looking into having slightly fewer copy credits show up if the copies are all double-sided. And we're trying to get attendance reports sent electronically instead of on paper. Those issues are outside our school's control.

Other ideas?

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