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Bureau of Indian Education Celebrates Earth Day with New Sustainability Practices


The Bureau of Indian Education takes a multi-faceted approach to sustainability, reducing its impact on the environment with new policies and practices being implemented by schools across the country. That also includes supporting educational opportunities that emphasize the need to prioritize the earth’s well-being. 

We are taking action to reduce and eliminate the purchase of single-use plastics at schools funded by the bureau. That includes water bottles, polystyrene food and beverage containers, straws, cups, cutlery, and disposable plastic bags and more. 

The BIE surveyed schools nationwide to learn about their purchase and use of these types of items. This data will help us implement a reduction in their use over the next eight years to meet Department of Interior guidelines for eliminating single-use plastics. 

BIE schools focus on day-to-day operations to lessen their environmental impact by reducing, reusing and recycling. Many now have water bottle filling stations. Pine Ridge School, operated by the BIE in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, gave its students and staff reusable water bottles with the school logo to nearly eliminate the need to purchase plastic water bottles.  

Enemy Swim Day School, a Tribally controlled school, on the Lake Traverse Reservation near Waubay, South Dakota, exemplifies environmental stewardship in the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate community. The school has replaced all Styrofoam with recycled paper products, given each staff member a place setting of washable silverware to reuse all year, given each student a refillable water container, retrofitted their water fountains as fill stations and more. They are also actively engaged in paper recycling efforts. 

Tuba City Boarding School, operated by the BIE in Tuba City, Arizona, is a leader in providing internal and external messaging regarding single-use plastics. The school has signs that promote the use of refillable water bottles and recycling. Staff also communicate about reducing single-use plastics, including hosting workshops and training about reduction. 

In addition to gathering data on and reducing single-use plastics, the BIE has also been studying greenhouse gas emissions of schools. In 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded its first Clean School Bus Program rebates to purchase electric and hybrid school buses, including at two institutions funded by the BIE – Lower Brule Day Schools in Lower Brule, South Dakota, and Choctaw Central High School, in Choctaw, Mississippi. The EPA plans to offer more funding opportunities. 

The BIE continues to analyze school energy (electricity, natural gas, propane and diesel), and water use, especially in terms of heating and cooling buildings. 

All of these efforts will help the BIE reach its sustainability goals throughout the next decade to reduce our environmental impact while maintaining a safe space where students gain a quality, culturally relevant education. 

Read more about the Department of Interior’s Sustainability Program at doi.gov/oepc/sustainability.

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