Issaquah School District honored by county for commitment to environment

Mother Nature has found thousands of allies in the Issaquah School District.

The district has been recognized by the King County Green Schools Program as a Level Three Green School District for implementing strategies to conserve energy and reduce waste, and educating students at all grade levels about why it is important to help the environment.

The district has been participating in the program since 2005, and has in the past been named a Level One and Level Two District.

Additionally, 23 of the districts 24 schools were named Level One Green Schools, 22 were named Level Two Schools, 18 as Level Three Schools and 15 as Sustaining Green Schools.

“The Issaquah School District is quite committed to sustainability. That commitment has come from the top-down and the bottom-up,” said Dale Alekel, manager of the King County Green Schools Program.

To be named a Level One district or school, participants must adopt practices centered around waste reduction and recycling. For Level Two, participants must maintain Level One standards, add one more waste reduction/recycling practice and adopt energy conservation practices. Level Three adds in water conservation standards. A Sustaining Green School maintains all three levels and completes an additional conservation practice or educational strategy.

Students are taught to implement basic waste reduction, recycling and conservation practices in their everyday lives at school and at home. Waste reduction strategies include writing on both sides of a sheet of notebook paper, drinking out of reusable water bottles, packing lunches from home in reusable containers and not taking more than you can eat from the school cafeteria.

Paper, milk cartons, cans, and plastic bottles and containers can all be recycled, and in some schools compostable materials like napkins are collected in a food scraps bin. Alekel said that this means most waste in schools can actually be disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way.

To conserve energy both at school and at home, students can turn off lights in rooms that aren’t being used, dress in layers so that the heat does not have to be turned up as high and keep windows and doors closed when the heat or air conditioning is on.

“Each person only has control over his or her own actions. It’s important to do the right thing and to take responsibility for what you can control,” Alekel said in an email. “Each student (or adult) who uses a durable water bottle, places recyclable materials in a recycling bin instead of in a garbage bin or turns off lights in unoccupied rooms is helping to conserve limited natural resources and protect our environment.”

Many of the students have even gone home and taught their parents a lesson or two in recycling and conserving.

When students are taught eco-friendly practices at a young age, Alekel said, “those habits are more likely to stick.”

Some of the Issaquah schools have made additional large-scale efforts to combat pollution. Brian Olson, the district’s food services director, set up a food share program at Grand Ridge, Issaquah Valley and Clark Elementary Schools so that any uneaten, packaged foods (such as yogurts or cheese sticks) can be placed in a special bin, rather than the trash. These foods are then donated to the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank. Alekel said that in the month of June alone, 1,300 pounds of food were given to the needy this way.

“Instead of being disposed, that food was being used,” she said.

Additionally, seven Issaquah School District schools have begun using real silverware that can be washed and reused, rather than plastic silverware that must be thrown out every day. This cuts down not only on waste, but also on consumption of goods made in fossil fuel-emitting factories.

Some schools have also started school gardens, as students are statistically likely to take vegetables from the cafeteria (and therefore prevent more food from going to waste) if they themselves have helped to grow vegetables.

Many schools also have “Green Teams,” environmental clubs that promote earth-conscious practices among the student body.

“The Issaquah School District is doing a tremendous job initiating and practicing sustainability,” Alekel said.

Alekel said that it is vital to remember that every effort, no matter how small, is important and beneficial in the fight against pollution and climate change.

“Every little bit makes a difference. If only a small percentage of students in each classroom uses both sides of each piece of paper and recycles all unwanted paper, more resources will be conserved than if no one in that classroom took those actions,” she said.