Environmental consciousness increases as staff makes changes to sanitation

Callie Hawkins

Over the summer, the school had to make a myriad of changes to ensure that in-person classes could resume as safely as possible.

 The school bought many supplies to increase safety on campus such as hands-free faucets, hands-free water bottle fillers, wipes, wipe holders, outdoor hand-washing stations, air purifiers, plexiglass partitions and outdoor tents. Large computer monitors with cameras were installed around campus to accommodate online learners.

“In a normal year, we don’t have this [many supplies] at all,” Director of Facilities Jay Michael said. “This is a big change.”

This cost the school $450,000 in expenditures. They were able to spend this amount of money because they were not paying for costly activities that occur in a normal year, such as back-to-school activities, social events and dances. While the additional purchases and changes the school has made are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19, some of these changes can be harmful to the environment.

“The environmental footprint of the school has always been very important to us,” Associate Head of School, Ruth Burke said. “When the last two buildings have been built, that has been a focus of ours, to make sure that our footprint is as contained as possible. The risk of using the normal procedures was a greater risk than our impact on the environment.”

At lunch, students and faculty are eating off of paper plates and plastic cups with plastic silverware. After every class, students must wipe down their desks with disposable wipes. Both of these safety measures increase the amount of waste thrown away at the school. 

“In general, I am disappointed in the increase of trash,” senior and president of the Environmental Awareness and World Wildlife Club Susanna Newsom said. “It’s hard because in the past few years, I feel like we have made so much progress in reducing the school’s environmental impact. It feels like a one step forward, three steps back kind of thing.”

Newsom met with Head of Upper School Henry Heil before school started, discussing purchasing the more expensive, yet more eco-friendly alternatives for lunch supplies instead of plastic silverware, cups and paper plates and what other things the school could do to reduce its carbon footprint. 

“I think spending more money would be really beneficial for the whole school, even from an [educational] perspective, kids are going to be seeing and they are learning that this is something you should be conscious about and that this is something that ESD cares about,” Newsom said. “But, I totally understand the safety concerns [of COVID-19 spreading], and I agree it is the number one priority as the school right now. I bring my own lunch to school, and I think that just bringing your own silverware [and] bringing a reusable water bottle [are] little things to try to at least reduce some of the plastic use.”

The school also purchased 17 electrostatic sprayers, which are used by the custodial staff throughout the day to disinfect high-touch surfaces around the school. These are filled with the disinfectant that the school uses to charge the wipes and also fills the spray bottles used at the lunch tables. This disinfectant has helped partially offset the overuse of plastic and trash waste because it doesn’t give off the toxic fumes that most disinfectants do. 

“We certainly are doing all we can to be earth friendly,” Burke said. “Our number one concern right now is the safety of all of us, teachers and students.”

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