Eco Award Winners Turn to Non-Toxic AusPen Markers

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WD Ferris Elementary School in Richmond, British Columbia is the winner of the 2011 Eco Voyageurs Jr award for efforts to reduce their ecological footprint. Not content to coast on their successes in going green, WD Ferris is putting much of their award money towards purchasing non-toxic, refillable dry-erase markers to further reduce their waste and eliminate harmful toxins. It’s a purchase that will save the school approximately 300 pounds of toxic waste from their local landfill.

WD Ferris Elementary School in Richmond B.C. is the winner of the 2011 EcoVoyageurs Jr award, and this environmentally-minded school is putting their grant money to good use. The annual award goes to a school or class that has taken considerable measures to reduce their ecological footprint. For a second year in a row, WD Ferris has earned this award, and like last year, is turning to practical green solutions with the earnings. Kevin Lyseng, the school environmental leader and grade 5/6 teacher, has used the money to purchase sets of AusPen non-toxic, refillable and recyclable dry-erase markers for the classroom whiteboards, a move which will reduce the school’s waste by approximately 300 pounds.

“The appeal of AusPen eco-friendly markers,” explains Lyseng, “is that they show the kids how you can make a difference. We can now say that with these 120 markers and their refill inks, 5000 markers won’t go into a landfill. That makes numbers real. That makes real connections. Now the kids can see why [the choice of these markers] is valuable,” says Lyseng.

Lyseng was already turned off of his regular markers before finding out about a greener alternative. The nasty smell of the disposable markers, the stain they would leave on the board, and the cleaning spray that “shouldn’t be in our school in the first place” are reasons the eco-conscious teacher made “a better environmental choice”. “It is not uncommon to just use your hand to quickly wipe ink off the board. That begs the question of what’s in our man-made environment and why it’s killing us. We rarely question what we use on a daily basis,” he observed.

The elementary school and Lyseng are no strangers to winning environmental awards. Previous environmental competitions like EcoVoyageurs and BC Green Games, as well as green initiatives such as recycling beverage containers, have provided the school with funds which they have used to purchase park benches, 30 trees for the school property, stainless steel compost containers, rechargeable batteries, field trips, rain barrels, an elaborate garden and compost system, and wire baskets that enable the wet paper to dry and then be recycled.

Much can be learned from the approaches that WD Ferris has taken towards reducing their ecological footprint. Whenever obstacles have presented themselves, the school has searched for new approaches and projects. For example, a mice infestation in the school proved to be a major problem. It stopped the school from conducting school waste audits and composting. The school had been generating over 5 kilograms per day of compost, which they would use to fertilize their school gardens. Forced to stop composting, the school re-focused their energies and decided to put their grant money towards AusPen eco-friendly markers, a practical solution to the toxic, wasteful and expensive regular markers.

When asked what advice he might give to other schools trying to go green or reduce their waste, Lyseng recommended doing a series of garbage audits. “That will provide the direction to work on,” he explains. “Look at what is coming into the school and what gets thrown out. Refuse what creates waste, or modify it. I saw 4-5 plastic whiteboard markers being thrown out a day. What does that look like over time?” Lyseng says that switching to AusPen eco-friendly markers was not his school’s starting point in going green, “but it could be for other schools. It’s about thinking differently, challenging your general behaviours and asking: what’s a better way of doing it and how can we improve on it?”

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Maureen O'Neill
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