Back to School with Sustainability on the Brain

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As summer winds down with area students already settled back in the classroom, cooler nights and more pleasant daytime temperatures will soon make their way to the region, meaning it’s less likely that the quality of the air we breathe will be top of mind. But given that St. Louis is ranked as one of the top cities in the nation for ozone and particle pollution, it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that there are various things we can be doing during the school year to help keep the region’s air clean all year-round.

The good news is all of us can take voluntary steps to reduce emissions by incorporating sustainable practices into our daily lives, and there are many actions parents and kids and college students can consider as part of their back-to-school routines to keep our air quality in healthy ranges:

  • Walk, bike or take public transit – When weather conditions are favorable, kids that live close to school can replace car trips with walking or bicycling to help reduce air pollution. Since fewer vehicles on the roads result in less pollution in the air, Metro is another great option for those who aren’t within walking distance to school. The region’s public transit system is designed so riders can walk to a nearby stop, or park and take a train or bus, or a combination of the two, to get where they’re going – safely, comfortably and conveniently. Metro also helps area students navigate to and from class with ease, with several local colleges and universities offering a customized Metro University Pass (U-Pass) that grants students and faculty unlimited use of the transit system at a reduced rate.
  • Nix bottled water – Did you know that up to 80 percent of single-use water bottles in the United States never get recycled? Not only does the production of plastic water bottles contribute significant amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, their litter lingers for years on end. Consider purchasing a reusable water bottle that can be filled up at any water fountain instead of throwing away a new one each time to cut down on unnecessary waste and help improve air quality.
  • Limit waste at lunch – When packing a lunch for school, opt for reusable sandwich containers rather than plastic zip-top baggies and consider investing in an eco-friendly, insulated lunch box instead of brown bags that get thrown in the trash anyways. Packing appropriately-sized lunch portions also helps to minimize food waste that typically ends up in a landfill where it rots and produces harmful greenhouse gases.
  • Go paperless when possible – Because we live in a digital world, there are many places we can opt out of using paper. Taking notes electronically during class helps to eliminate paper waste, which ultimately saves money and a substantial amount of energy that leads to cleaner air. Printing double-sided and using an online calendar or scheduler to keep assignments organized are also great ways to reduce paper consumption.

The Clean Air Partnership is proud to play a role in raising awareness about all the ways we can reduce environmental impact. To access a wealth of air quality information and tips designed to help area residents do their share for cleaner air, parents and students are encouraged to visit the tips section of our website at, like the Clean Air Partnership on Facebook or follow @gatewaycleanair on Twitter.