Impact on Asthma

Dust, mold, and pests can cause asthma symptoms. Clutter in the classroom can create a place for dust, mold, and pests to gather. Clutter causes dust to build up; it hides areas where mold may be growing; it may block ventilation units, which prevents indoor air from being refreshed; and it can provide places for pests to live and hide. Clutter also makes it difficult to clean potentially harmful dust, mold, and pest waste.

Stopping clutter before it starts, and/or setting aside time for cleaning or holding clean-out events, can prevent and manage asthma triggers. Recycling is a cost-effective and green way of managing clutter.

Example Policies

Policies that address clutter usually include: rationale of the policy, description of the roles of key players (e.g., school district, school administration, and facilities staff), and an implementation plan that outlines how to address (recyclable) materials such as books, cardboard boxes, yard waste, and electronics.

Solid Waste Management & Recycling Policy, Boston Public Schools: Includes an implementation plan. 

Best Practices 

Conduct a school walk-through to monitor your recycling practices and to identify priority areas for clutter clean-out.

Organize a school clutter cleanout before school vacations or schedule them for targeted areas, like particular closets. Make sure there are extra barrels for trash and recycling, including electronic waste (old computers and equipment). Create a "give away and swap" area for other school staff and families.

Use your community partnerships to get help on clean-out days, or for special projects like building or assembling storage shelves. This helps to cycle out old/unnecessary items, keep the area clean, and keep items off floors, which can help prevent pests and moisture.

Install walk-off mats at entrances to scrape dirt from shoes. This dirt can carry in allergens, dust, and pesticide residues from outside. The mats should not be extra thick (these may never dry) or attached to the floor; they should be capable of being picked up, cleaned, and replaced when needed. Rubber backing prevents them from slipping. Sometimes a sequence of walk-off mats is used. Some schools have found that keeping the outside paths well-swept also reduces outside dirt tracked inside. Other strategies include using grates and other systems that help knock dirt off of shoes before people enter.

Make recycling sustainable by adding recycling to your curriculum and student responsibilities, and forming a Green Team.

Educate staff, teachers, students, partners and visitors about recycling and using best practices such as those from Boston Public Schools’ Recycling Guide.

Create your own newsletter or blog to highlight accomplishments in keeping school environments healthy and to enlist support on your healthy school efforts. Here is an example of a newsletter outlining healthy schools’ practices from the Boston Teachers Union Healthy Schools Taskforce.

Resources & Tools

The Green Team, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection: Interactive educational program that empowers students and teachers to help the environment through waste reduction, recycling, composting, energy conservation, and pollution prevention; participating classes receive certificates of recognition and are eligible to win awards.

Recycling Checklist, Cambridge Public Schools: Recycling checklist for custodians and school recycling leaders.

Greening the Apple Blog, Environmental Protection Agency: Examines the risks and consequences of clutter and includes specific tips for reducing/eliminating clutter in the classroom.

Green Apple Day of Service, U.S. Green Building Council Massachusetts Chapter: Brings together students, teachers, parents, community groups, companies, and more to transform schools and campuses into healthy, safe, and efficient places to learn through service projects.

Dealing with Chemicals, Environmental Protection Agency: If your school’s clean-out or de-cluttering efforts involve removing chemicals, follow these guidelines from the EPA.

Indoor Air Quality in Schools: A Primer for Teachers, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Bureau of Environmental Health: Tips and simple steps around ventilation, moisture and microbial growth, and source pollution and classroom cleanliness that school staff can take to maintain and improve indoor air quality.