Students Tackle Rampant Paper Consumption At CRLS And Beyond

In January, Education First (EF), a travel company specializing in global educational tours, invited the entire Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS) to participate in a competition centered on local environmental issues. The Glocal Challenge prompted students to identify a local environmental issue and to develop a five-year proposal to address the problem. The challenge fired up a competitive and inspired investigation during which CRLS students began to examine their world in a new way. Through new eyes, they began to open to the reality that they can make a difference.

paper_content.jpgStudents enlisted the support of teacher sponsors and EF mentors and covered a variety of environmental issues including plastic bottles, water and energy conservation, green roofs, and invasive plants. The focus of this report is on one team called Environmental Paper Assault (EPA) whose investigation revealed incredible paper usage at the high school. Three copy machines handle most of the academic photocopy needs of CRLS staff and crank out nearly 29,000 copies every day. They tracked paper usage for all 13 photocopiers and 304 personal printers and found that CRLS uses close to 6 million sheets of paper every year. If this paper was stacked, it would approach 1,900 feet high – towering 400 feet over the Empire State Building! The cost of paper and toner at CRLS is close to $90,000 every year.

“Our students did a terrific job identifying a real-world issue and proposing tangible solutions. I was impressed by the facts they uncovered, their innovation & collaboration with others, and the results of their project,” said Kristen von Hoffmann, Sustainability Manager.

According to their research, this staggering amount of paper takes a tremendous toll on the environment, requiring wood from 12 football fields full of trees, over 640,000 gallons of water, and generating 156,000 pounds of CO2 every year. It would require another 15 football fields filled with trees to offset the greenhouse gases produced annually.

Team Environmental Paper Assault reported that while the United States is less than 5% of the world’s population, it consumes close to 40% of all the paper used on the planet. CRLS is but a microcosm of the nation and when one considers that a high school of 1,616 students representing 0.01% of public high school students in the US. The cumulative environmental effect cannot be ignored.

The team lead by Dr. Joan Abrams, included junior, Eric Chan and freshmen Josh Brancazio, Ben Austin, Izzy Gray, and Griffin Andres. They are passionate about their project and determined to make a difference. They dug deep during the month-long research project and gained the support of teachers, school administrators, and the Cambridge school committee.

paper.pngHere’s what Eric Chan, had to say about his work with Team Environmental Paper Assault: “We uncovered many outrageous facts about the paper consumption at CRLS and across America including a study by the University of Arizona which found that paper makes up close to 40% of American landfills.” The ambitious group hopes to reduce paper consumption at CRLS by at least 50% within the next year.

Their proposed remedy includes immediate changes in photocopying practices which require the cooperation of teachers, administrators, and students. Some obvious and relatively simple approaches include teachers taking advantage of cloud sharing to reduce handouts and holding students accountable for not losing their packets. Teachers who already use digital methods for their classes can serve as models for teachers who rely on handouts thereby promoting the transition to digital classrooms.

Team EPA proposes implementing a Chromebook program whereby every student will have access to a personal laptop for maximizing cloud sharing and eventually phasing out most textbooks in favor of e-books.

These industrious students formed the CRLS Paper Committee and have begun an aggressive public awareness campaign including posters, video, and newspaper articles. On March 5, they presented their proposal to the Cambridge School Committee. The paper team will join the CRLS Environmental Action Club for an Environmental Summit in Costa Rica during April vacation where they will meet Al Gore along with other environmental leaders from around the globe.

Environmental Paper Assault doesn’t plan to stop at CRLS. They intend to spread the program to other schools in the district and across the state. Eventually, they would like to encourage paperless city government. More information can be found on their website.

Photo (on right): Eric Chan and Josh Brancazio sit atop a shipment of paper at CRLS. These six pallets represent about 1/10 of the paper consumed at the high school annually.

Header Photo: Team EPA presenting to Cambridge School Committee March 5, 2013.

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