Feature sustainability

Published on May 16th, 2017 | by Katie Osaki

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How to be more sustainable at Samo

Samo is a proud member and representative of our green city of Santa Monica. As a leader and a supporter, Samo has adopted many of the ideals and footsteps that our city has taken in terms of sustainability. Whether it’s painting bike paths on commonly-traveled streets or making public transportation more accessible, Santa Monica has taken great leaps that have created a greater environment for our future generations.

In 2012, science teacher Benjamin Kay and his club Team Marine advocated for an increased focus on sustainability within the school district. That August, the school board supported putting together a sustainability committee made up of students and other experts in the community for us to make recommendations to the school board on how best to “green” our campus and culture. However, while all board members supported this, it’s been five years and there is still little environmental motion in the ocean.

In the state of California, schools and districts that have curricula, culture and facilities that meet certain environmental standards are awarded Green Ribbon Awards and become certified as such. Awards have been given to our neighboring school districts in Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Long Beach, Oak Park and even LA, to name just a few.

In addition, in California’s educational mission statement, they express that by creating safer and greener environments at schools and assimilating education on real world issues into the curriculum, students become more invested in their education. Studies have shown that when students become more involved in their education, the achievement gap present in most schools will close along with increased attendance.

Over the past couple years, Samo have been trying to close our problematic achievement gap. Just last year, they hired Dr. Pedro Noguera to consult on closing the achievement gap. While his work is not being disregarded, we are still seeing a lack in efforts to mitigate this issue.

Furthermore, Samo has been trying to implement new attendance policies in order to reduce to amount of money lost when students don’t attend school. By implementing new policies like the 120 absence rule that began this year and has plans to get stricter in the next few years, it not only frustrates and angers students, but also isn’t working as efficiently as it was intended to.

So, why have we been jumping through hoops and over barrels to find the solution when we’ve been sitting in it all along: making our school greener.

This option has never been viable because Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) doesn’t even have sustainability in its mission statement. Which is quite the juxtaposition compared to the work that our city and city college, Santa Monica College (SMC), have done to make living here safer and greener.

On May 18, Kay, along with many of his students and Team Marine members, will be banding together at the Board of Education meeting in order to bring sustainability back into the spotlight and advocate making our school and district a green space.

Whether it’s putting sustainability in the mission statement, requesting the board to hire a sustainability director, or holding the board accountable to the formation of a green committee, Kay and students have been fighting to get this topic back on the table, pushing for a better educational environment, and all the benefits that go with it including a closed achievement gap and increased attendance.

Although Samo has not taken many of the steps community members would have hoped, there are a few elemental things that we can advocate for in order to get closer to this achievement. So, without further ado, here are a four things we can do here at Samo to be more environmentally conscious.

REDUCE YOUR PAPER FOOTPRINT

In every classroom, trash cans and recycling bins are filled with piles upon piles of paper. Paper is one of the most commonly used materials in classrooms, and is made from trees which are considered a renewable resource. A renewable resource is any material extracted from Earth that can regenerate within a human life scale.

While this seems like a perfectly coupled match, paper is also the greatest component of municipal waste in the United States. In addition, the production of paper emits one of the most toxic persistent environmental pollutants: dioxin; which is found to cause damage to the immune system and cancer.

Trees are also a major carbon sink, meaning that they store high amounts of carbon in their physical structure. Trees also conduct photosynthesis which takes carbon dioxide out of the air, converting it into glucose and releasing oxygen as a byproduct. Thus reducing the amount of carbon in the air and helping the global crisis of climate change.

Despite its environmental harm, people worldwide continue to use it as a vital material in their work, school, home and more. However, there are many ways to reduce the amount of paper you use daily.

One way is to print on both sides instead of one. By doing this the amount of paper being used will decrease by half and utilize 100 percent of the paper instead of 50 percent. If teachers across Samo began to double-side print, our paper intake would drastically decrease and contribute to the greening of our school and the reduction in trees being harvested for industrial use.

Another way to reduce Samo’s paper footprint, is to utilize online mediums like Edmodo or Google Classrooms, to send information and worksheets to students. By doing this, the need for printing can be eliminated altogether, allowing teachers to bypass the frustrating process of getting the printer or copier to work and reducing the amount of paper being printed.

In addition, teachers can help students reduce their paper waste by turning essays and papers in online via Google Docs or turnitin.com. Thus allowing students to bypass the morning stress of getting a paper printed in the library before the start of class.

The loads of papers piled on students everyday eventually ends up crowding our landfills as paper waste and killing our trees. For every 16.67 reams of paper, 1 tree is cut down and with about 2.47 million trees being cut down daily we need to conserve all the trees that we can.

By reducing our paper footprint as a school, it will set a good example for students to mimic these habits at home, thus creating a reduction in each individual’s paper footprint.

Although seemingly small compared to bigger mitigation strategies, everything counts. Through practicing this elemental skill, it’ll not only help the environment, but will hopefully reduce the cost of paper the district has to spend each year. Thus incentivising environmentally conscious practices through economic benefits and helping our school district move toward sustainability.

REDUCE YOUR PLASTIC FOOTPRINT

Plastic is one of the most frequently used synthetic materials. Whether it’s malleable like a one-time use plastic water bottle, or hard like a reusable plastic water bottle, everywhere you look there is plastic.

Plastic is an nonbiodegradable substance, meaning that it cannot be broken down naturally in the environment, leaving it to persist in nature for millions and millions of years.

Over the past century, the accumulation of plastic waste such as water bottles, wrappers and more, have created large amounts of trash that centralize within our oceans and the coasts of many countries.

This can cause harm to marine animals that accidentally ingest plastic by mistaking it for its natural prey like sea turtles that mistake plastic bags for jellyfish in the ocean. Plastic rings found on six-packs of soda cans also entangle animals, such as seals that can get the plastic stuck around their neck, cutting into their flesh and more often than not, suffocating them.

However, plastics also harm humans. In areas of high concentrations of plastic waste such as the coasts and rivers of lower developed countries such as Bangladesh, and landfills scattered around the world, research has found that people living around these areas are at a higher risk of getting cancer from the toxins being released into the air such as methane, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, dioxin, benzene and more.

When plastics end up in landfills, the are often left there for long periods of time, being compressed and decomposed at a very slow rate. While a long process, overtime the chemicals inside the plastics can leach out into the ground and possibly contaminate our drinking water. Thus, another environmental hazard of plastic waste.

However, despite these dangers, in every vending machine and food stand found on campus, when you look inside, you’ll find rows and rows of plastic wrapped foods that are destined to be left on the lunch tables of the science and innovation quads.

While some of this trash will end up in trash and recycling bins that will ultimately be taken to landfills, a lot of the forgotten trash will end up in the ocean. Adding more waste to the already extensive plastic cycle of going from purchase to use to trash to land pollution to ocean pollution.

However, there are many things you can do as an individual to reduce your plastic footprint and prevent the addition of plastic waste into the ocean.

  1. Put your trash in its respective bin, reducing the amount of trash out in the open.
  2. Pick up trash you see lying around campus and throw it out.
  3. Use glass or metal food containers instead of hard plastics.
  4. Use a stainless steel or other type of reusable water bottle instead of a single-use plastic water bottle, commonly sold in vending machines and food stands.
  5. Stay away from single-use plastics.
  6. Participate in local clean-ups to reduce the amount of waste along our coasts.
  7. Educate yourself and others on plastic waste and the effects plastic has on the environment.

By doing these basic things, you can make Samo a cleaner place and reduce its waste. Thus making our campus a better environment and further pushing our district toward sustainability.

RECYCLE

Ah that time again, when the lunch bell rings and it’s time to throw away your trash into the monotonous grey and blue bins. Grey, blue? Blue, grey? What goes into which bin? Why?

Traditionally, the grey bin is for leftover food scraps and the container in which they came in, and the blue is for recyclable goods like glass, paper and plastic. However, most trash that goes into the blue recycling bin doesn’t make it to a recycling facility. Here at Samo, most of our trash, whether placed in the grey or blue bin, gets dumped into the same garbage bin that’s headed straight for a landfill or incinerator.

This doesn’t just happen to our trash scattered throughout the science quad, both grey and blue bins found inside classrooms is dumped into one collective trash. Making the entire purpose of two bins completely ambiguous. However, a few teachers (such as Margaret Colburn) have taken it upon themselves to create their own recycling bins inside their classrooms and throwing its contents into the recycling bin themselves.

While this not only helps the environment, it also shows a good examples for students who are unenthused by the difference between what goes in the grey and what goes in the blue.

Nonetheless, education on recyclables is still key to making our school a more sustainable place.

Typically, the trash that goes in the grey bins is leftover food scraps and the container in which they came in, but is that all that should be thrown in the trash? To answer this question, it’s important to learn about recyclables first.

In the blue bin goes anything glass or paper that is not contaminated with food. If trash placed in a recycling bin contains any food waste the entire bag is no longer eligible for recycling and must be tossed with the other trash from the grey bin. Glass and paper that is not contaminated can be tossed into the recycling bin and safely recycled. But what about plastics? Plastics are a synthetic material not found in nature, therefore cannot be broken down by nature. This allows plastics to live on Earth for millions of years, which is one of the many major issues we currently have on Earth. In addition, plastics can not truly be recycled, only downcycled. Downcycling is the process of melting the plastics down to their base elements and then recreating another material object that has a lesser purpose than the original object.

For example, if you “recycle” a plastic water bottle, sometimes it will be melted down into its base form and then reshaped to become a plastic bag. Although both useful and convenient things, they are detrimental to our environment.

Being a coastal city, any trash that is not properly disposed of goes straight to the ocean. Which contributes to a larger issue of global ocean pollution. Our coast sits on the eastern side of the North Pacific Gyre, which is a clockwise flowing current that transports water from the west coast of the United States to the east coasts of Australia, Indonesia and Asia, and vice versa. This flow of water is almost like a whirlpool that diverts water away from the coast and into the center of the gyre.

However, water is most certainly not the only thing that’s being swept into the eye of the gyre. In 1985, seafarers such as larger cargo ships and streamliners, began to notice a large mass floating in the center of the North Pacific. As viewers took a closer look, they soon discovered that it was a giant mass of floating plastic that had covered a surface area over the ocean as large as Texas.

This huge collection of trash was soon dubbed the “North Pacific Garbage Patch.”

This heaping pile of plastic has only grown since, and due to the persistence plastic has in nature, it will most likely stay and accumulate for thousands of years.

On May 11, environmental scientist Marcus Eriksen joined Kay and some of his students to analyze a bioplastic experiment he began two years ago, placing plastics and bioplastics in two respective places: underground, simulating a landfill, and in the ocean, simulating ocean pollution. Bioplastics are a type of single use plastics that are claimed to be biodegradable. However, through his experient, he found that most of the plastics he tested did not biodegrade within this two year period. Thus showing that even plastics that are supposed to be “eco-friendly” may not be.

This alarming notion and harm that plastic poses calls into question the true need for them. What other resources can we use to replace the nondegradable nuisance of plastic? One common answer to this question is something our black and white mammal friends, pandas, have been munching on for thousands of years: bamboo.

Bamboo is a plant that can grow very quickly in a short amount of time, thus making its exactration and usage in moderation a sustainable and natural source for wrappers, bags, plates, forks and other utensils. Thus eliminating the need for plastic and reducing our plastic footprint, aforementioned, and becoming more eco-friendly.

While it’s still alarming that here at Samo, we don’t even have a proper recycling program, if we as a school take on these issues face to face we can achieve anything we set our minds to. We can reduce the need for recycling plastics, by replacing plastic with a renewable resource. We can also reduce our plastic footprint, increasing the amount of recycled goods we can use and make our school more a sustainable place.

LESS CONCRETE

Our good old friend concrete, it gives us reliable walkways and protects us from the horrifying amount of dirt flying up in the science quad, but is it really the best option? Concrete while having a lighter color and solid bounce, has a very low albedo. What is albedo, you may ask? Albedo is the reflectivity of a surface.

As many of you know, climate change is a very serious problem on our Earth. Climate change is driven by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the air which is currently the biggest contributor to the greenhouse gas effect. What is the greenhouse gas effect?

It’s when greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and tropospheric ozone accumulate in the troposphere, trapping heat energy within the atmosphere and heating up the planet. This process works much like a greenhouse (thus it’s given name). As light rays come through the glass, some of the light energy gets reflected back into space allowing it to escape the walls of the greenhouse, but the rest of the light energy gets absorbed and transformed into heat energy which cannot escape.

This accumulation of heat is exactly what’s happening in our atmosphere. As light rays come through the atmosphere many are reflected back to space via cumulus clouds (thick white clouds) and ice (sea and land ice) which have high albedos due to their white color–the higher the albedo the more light energy gets reflected, the lower the albedo the more light energy gets absorbed and transformed into heat energy.

So, when light energy comes through the atmosphere while some of it gets reflected, most of it gets absorbed by our oceans and dark land surfaces such as concrete. When this energy gets absorbed, it is transformed into heat which rises in our atmosphere but gets trapped by the layer of greenhouse gases that serve as the walls of the greenhouse. It’s this effect that is causing detrimental environmental catastrophes such as sea level rise which has already displaced thousands of people in the Pacific Ocean near Indonesia, ocean acidification which is killing our coral reefs including our recently declared dead Great Barrier Reef off the eastern coast of Australia, and on the other side of the spectrum severe drought such as the one we’ve experienced in California, the horrendous drought that has displaced thousands of people living in central Australia, and the one that is causing the depletion of the Nile River which supplies water to 300 million people.

So why is it bad to fill the science quad with concrete? Concrete is a surface with a very low albedo. Which as earlier explained is what contributes to the warming of the planet. Although it will reduce the annoying amount of dirt that gets spun into a mini tornado and gets in everyone’s eyes while walking through it, there are far better options that to lay out concrete. One is to replant grass or lay out mulch which will revive the eroded soil that is kicked up by the wind. Another option is to lay out garden beds, where students can grow fruits and vegetables that can be served in our cafeterias, thus reducing the money spent on produce in the district and creating a healthier option for students.

However, the problems with laying out concrete don’t stop there. All around the quad you see overflowing trash cans, stray plastic wrappers and even leftover food scraps that fell onto the floor making it inedible. If you layout concrete, it will decrease the absorption of water into the soil and increase runoff. Although we don’t get copious amounts of rain, we do get rain once in awhile. Because our school is on a hill, the rain falls, hitting the concrete on our plot of land, and runs down to the ocean. Thus dragging and ultimately dumping more plastic into our oceans, which is illegal under the Ocean Dumping Act.

So, is concrete really the way you want to go? Probably not. However, recently ASB students have been advocating to the district to fill in the dirt patches of the science quad with concrete. This serves as an uneducated decision, which while sounds good is really not.

So next time you think of ways to fix the mini-tornado problem in the science quad, don’t lay concrete as your first pick.

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