The return to school risks being a disaster for the environment

From disposable masks to the excessive use of disinfectants, from building safety to energy efficiency: all the unknowns of the school year 2020/2021

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© Arthur Krijgsman on Pexels

Less than a week from the beginning of the school, there are still many uncertainties and unresolved issues concerning the management of classes in relation to the Covid emergency, the environmental and structural sustainability of buildings.

According to Legambiente, there are four major issues to tackle if you really want greener, sustainable, safe and inclusive schools: the school building site and the issue of energy efficiency on which part of the Recovery fund funds must be addressed, the spaces schools to be redeveloped and services to be upgraded such as full-time and canteens, encouraging sustainable mobility by strengthening, for example, cycle and pedestrian home-school connections.

But looking more carefully at what is the situation a few days after the reopening of the school, we realize that the anti-contagion measures risk turning into a real disaster for the environment.

Disposable masks vs reusable masks

The special commissioner for the coronavirus emergency Domenico Arcuri has announced his intention to provide 11 million protective devices to Italian institutions with different measures and sizes depending on age. Translated into numbers, this means 44 tons of disposable masks to be disposed of through incineration, as these devices are not recyclable. Environmentalists from various quarters have asked CTS to provide 11 million certified reusable masks instead of disposable masks. This would significantly reduce the amount of waste produced.

Legambiente also intervened on the issue of using the disposable surgical mask at school, defining it a “senseless decision, as it is necessary to provide students with certified reusable masks, urging them and encouraging them to use washable ones to reduce the amount of disposable ones that circulate. in the country, and in any case guaranteeing the protection of health “.

Hand hygiene and sanitation of school environments

The need to sanitize environments and to take better care of personal hygiene through frequent hand washing will lead to a significant increase in the use of alcohol and bleach-based disinfectant products, hand sanitizing soaps and gels, wet wipes . All products that, through drains or bins, will be dispersed into the environment, producing pollution.

Building security

The contingent situations dictated by the need to stem the coronavirus infection are accompanied by a structural situation that is not happy at all. The new data (2019) collected by the School Ecosystem Observatory on the basis of the survey carried out on 5,600 school buildings in the provincial capitals and which Legambiente anticipates with a preview is also clear.

In Italy, 29.1% of school buildings require urgent maintenance, 58.6% of schools do not have accessibility, without forgetting those in the seismic area, 9.8% are in seismic area 1, of these only 20 , 2% was designed or subsequently adapted to the anti-seismic construction technical regulations; 35.8% of the buildings are in seismic area 2, of these only 10.6% were designed or subsequently adapted to the technical regulations for anti-seismic construction. In the last 5 years, work has been carried out on 51.8% of buildings with interventions concerning plant engineering, fire prevention, sanitation, floors, architectural barriers.

Energy efficiency

In terms of energy efficiency, only 6.4% of school buildings are in energy class A, 34.5% in class G. On 16.3% of buildings, energy efficiency measures have been carried out in the last 5 years regarding fixtures, insulation, boilers and renewable energy systems. Delays are also due to the fact that in terms of services and mobility, according to the data collected, only 13.9% of schools provide pre-school service and 18.4% of school buildings have cycle paths in the areas opposite.

“We hope – declares Vanessa Pallucchi, vice president of Legambiente – that part of the funds of the Recovery Fund will be directed primarily on the safety and energy efficiency of buildings, the regeneration of educational spaces and the quality and extension of school services, without neglecting the possibility of supporting circular economy processes on the question of benches and masks. Furthermore, the due prevention of Covid risk is a stimulus to conceive a different school, of proximity, of small groups in the presence without taking away the community dimension that even distance learning can contribute to increase if managed actively by students”.

Spaces, services and transport

Another major issue concerns the school spaces to be redeveloped, transport and services to be upgraded. Among the other data collected by the School Ecosystem Observatory, it emerges that 46% of school buildings have sports facilities, including gyms and outdoor sports facilities; 32.2% have sports facilities that are open to the public after school hours. 63.9% of the buildings have gardens or green areas that can be used.

Also on these three fronts – spaces, school services and transport – Legambiente asks for maximum attention in terms of sustainability, for example by paying attention to the canteen and lunch box issue where there is a risk of increasing the use of disposable products and consequently generating waste. of plastic, and finally enhancing sustainable mobility in order to avoid the mass use of private cars. In this regard, Legambiente recalls that 18.4% of school buildings have cycle paths in the areas in front, 65.8% can be reached by school bus, 51.9% by urban public transport and 42.1% by public transport interurban.