Tracing Wilson’s carbon footprint


How much paper does Wilson use? Is it too much?

By the end of a normal day, the average student accumulates about 14 pieces of paper. That is more than 2,300 pieces of paper per student per year, which adds up to more than six million pieces of paper per year for the entire student body. “The main thing is that we don’t have any other resources given that our textbooks are out of date and we don’t have consistent access to technology to use online resources,” biology teacher Nora Swift said. Since Wilson lacks school-wide technology, teachers feel obligated to give as much paper as they do in order to present the most up-to-date information. So, if DCPS were to attempt to reduce the amount of paper used per student, they would need to drastically change available resources. If school-wide technology was available, research, assignments, and exams could be done with little to no use of paper. Unfortunately, DCPS and Wilson have not done so yet, but are looking to in the future.


Why do many lights stay on during non-school hours?

If you’ve ever been at Wilson at night, you might have noticed that many of the lights in classrooms are left on. This is common in many schools and large buildings, and the reason is simple: crime. Popular societal thought says that criminals are less likely to be active in well-lit areas, but the evidence for this theory is less convincing. In the UK, studies by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health and the National Institute of Justice found no correlation between lighting and crime rates. In fact, a study by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority found links between brightly-lit public spaces and increased crime. The copious use of lights not only uses unnecessary energy—it also contributes to light pollution which can harm the circadian rhythms of humans and animals.


How much water does Wilson use? Are we wasting?

Between the shower in the girl’s locker room that has been running since August, and the automatic toilets that flush more than necessary, it is pretty evident that Wilson wastes water. But how much is wasted? The school’s 2011 renovation brought drastic improvement to its carbon footprint regarding water. The school uses 74 percent less water than before the renovation, and boasts a 38,000 gallon storm water management system, as well as a 15,000-gallon cistern that holds rainwater and provides toilet water. Estimated calculations presume that toilets are flushed at Wilson around 709,200 times per year. Since the average toilet uses seven gallons per flush, this means that Wilson’s toilets use almost five million gallons of water per year.  


Does Wilson’s ‘recycling’ actually get recycled?

Sitting in the atrium, you throw your half-eaten sandwich in what looks like a recycling bin, not paying much attention to where exactly you are putting it. Well, lucky for you, if a bin has a plastic liner, it is considered trash no matter what the bin actually says. In classrooms, the bins marked as recycling are actual recycling bins, and only accept paper because the DC Department of General Services believes that if a student sees non-paper recycling in a bin, they may think that it is a trash bin and throw trash into it. Regardless, about half of the time, either the recycling compactor or dumpsters are overflowed with waste and the excess trash and recycling get poured into the opposing bin. This means that a huge recycling compactor can be turned into trash just because the dumpsters are too small, or Wilson students and faculty are throwing too much away. •


Does Wilson compost? Why or why not?

Wilson does actually try to compost, or at least it used to. In fact, within Wilson’s rules and procedures, it tells students to “keep Wilson clean and green by disposing of breakfast and lunch waste into the proper containers- compostable food and waste recyclables.” However, according to DCPS, Wilson does not have an onsite compost bin, meaning we do not compost at school.

Wilson was an Organics Participant, meaning that Wilson sent food scraps and compostable paper to an offsite composting facility in Upper Marlboro MD, instead of an incinerator or landfill. In this fashion, Wilson can compost without having an onsite compost site. This also means that along with recycling, Wilson, if what DCPS says is correct, composts paper.

ELA teacher Marc Minsker, who runs Wilson’s compost program, says that “Maintaining a composting program is challenging because it takes effort, and it’s no one’s paid job to make it happen.” “Mr. Minsker is donating his time to make composting a reality for Wilson.” Says science teacher Dani Moore. Both are heavily invested in helping Wilson become more accustomed to composting, and become more of a green school in general. “After paper, food scraps are the second biggest component of municipal solid waste in the United States. Composting food scraps saves landfill space and allows the nutrients in the food to continue to circulate in the biosphere rather than being entombed in a landfill.” explains Moore. In order for Wilson to have less of a carbon footprint, students need to be more aware of the impact that just throwing away simple scraps will make.

Minsker happily reports that “On March 22nd, through a generous PTSO grant, I purchased a 50-gallon tumbler composter which now resides in the Rose Garden.” Since March 25, him and a couple of seniors have been collecting food scraps during STEP, and just one month later, the compost bin is full. The contents of the bin is delivered to the Fort Reno Community Garden, and those same seniors help the workers of the garden with the incoming compost.

Minsker and Moore both hope that with these new innovations in the composting department, composting will become more popular within Wilson.

How much trash does Wilson produce every day? Per year?

Lunch food, wrappers, paper, and more. Most of Wilson’s waste ends up in landfill, whether it is recyclable or not. How much trash does Wilson produce every day? Head Custodian James Lewis gives a rough estimate of


Where does our energy come from?

DC’s energy is provided by Pepco, a public utility company named “The most hated company in America” by Business Insider in 2011. Though their public image has since improved, the company angered many DC residents when they merged with Northeast utilities company Exelon in 2016. Currently, the city council has passed a law requiring all of DC’s energy come from renewable sources by 2032. According to the US Energy Information Administration, DC’s energy currently comes largely from natural gas and hydroelectric sources. Unlike hydroelectricity, natural gas is a non-renewable resource that pollutes the earth. However, it is considered much less harmful to the Earth in terms of carbon emissions. Wilson also has solar panels on its roof which provide some energy to the school.


How large is Wilson’s carbon footprint in transportation?

Every day, paper and school supplies are used by students, teachers, and staff alike. But how do the supplies come to Wilson in the first place?

Within DCPS, many companies deliver products to public schools. Companies like Capital Service & Supplies, Laser Art, Metropolitan Office Products, and Sky, LLC DBA US Office Solutions all deliver Office and Educational Supplies. Their products range from paper, pens, binder clips, and folders. Each company has its’ own delivery truck, therefore not directly contributing to Wilson’s carbon footprint. However, because the company is creating more of a footprint because of Wilson, the footprint of these companies are increasing due to Wilson’s needs.

Other companies like General Merchandise Supplies, The Aquiline Group, and Premier Suppliers all deliver supplies ranging from Custodial, Sports, and Printing equipment. These companies also have their own ways to deliver, but Wilson is definitely not helping the carbon footprint of these companies either.

With all of the products that Wilson needs/uses, the company is in constant motion to deliver products that we need. For instance, Capital Service & Supplies is 7.9 miles away from Wilson. If they are making a trip to Wilson, they would be producing 703.1 grams of carbon into the air.

Additionally, schools use school buses to transport students on field trips. A gas School Bus will produce 89 grams of Carbon per mile. Therefore, if a school field trip 20 miles away, going there and back produces 3560 grams of carbon, or 3.56 kilograms of carbon.

Wilson does not produce a lot of carbon to get supplies for students and staff, but transporting students and teachers to field trip adds a lot to Wilson’s carbon footprint. However, in comparison to many suburban and rural schools in which many students take long commutes in cars, Wilson’s student transportation footprint is relatively small.


How is Wilson helping the Earth?

Wilson’s impact on the Earth isn’t all bleak. Wilson is an LEED Gold certified school, and the 2011 building renovation did significantly reduce the school’s carbon footprint. The atrium and the aux gym reduces light use by using natural light via the massive skylights. Wilson does have multiple environmentally friendly roofs, filled with plants and solar panels. Wilson’s website proudly notes “A 75-year-old coal- and oil-burning three-story power plant was converted into a highly efficient smaller-scale natural-gas power system that saved so much space that the school was able to convert one story into a state of the art fitness center, now called ‘The Power House.’” The school collects rainwater to use for toilets, and even if they flush all the time they still don’t use precious water from the reservoir. In short, while Wilson has made great strides in recent years toward reducing its carbon footprint, there is always more work to be done.