Did you know that schools generate an average of 4.7 lbs of trash per person every day? According to the American Federation of Teachers, academic institutions are some of the world’s biggest waste generators in any given city, state, or country.

Schools teach students to save the environment, but waste is still being generated as we speak.

This is perhaps the time when e-learning comes to save the day—or the planet. Let’s find out why.

Less gas consumption

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey says that Americans use about 600 gallons of gas in a year.

And that’s just one country.

E-learning consumes 90% less energy compared to traditional learning. Imagine how much gas is saved when transportation is taken out of the learning equation. By making the conscious choice of taking online courses instead of commuting to the campus, you cut your gas consumption to a significant degree.

Students prefer e-learning due to many reasons, and perhaps the most common reason is that they find traveling to and from the school quite exhausting and time-consuming. The more altruistic reason is that they reduce their gas consumption, and help the planet in the long run.

How many e-learning students realize this?

Less carbon dioxide emissions

If you choose to study online, you reduce your CO2 emissions to about 85%.

According to the US Census Bureau, the average one-way transport time is 26.1 minutes. Imagine commuting regularly for 5 days a week: you’d be traveling for over 200 hours per year!

But when you’re taking online courses, you don’t even have to worry about travel time and costs. The 200 hours wasted in a year can be used for more productive purposes.

Because you don’t have to travel, you help keep more cars away from the streets. In turn, this lessens the pollution and allows people to breathe fresher air. There’s less traffic congestion, which means fewer accidents and road casualties.

According to a joint study by the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) and the UK’s Open University Design Innovation Group (OUDIG), e-learning—distance education, to be specific—reduces transport-related carbon emissions to 89%. This is significantly lower than the carbon emissions generated from on-site learning.

Less plastic

Plastic is one of nature’s worst enemies, taking hundreds to thousands of years to decompose. Schools are some of the largest generators of plastic waste, too. After it gets tossed in the bin, where does plastic end up?

It may be disposed of properly to the right facility, but in many cases, it ends up in rivers, lakes, seas, and oceans. And before we even know it, it comes back to us as the food we get from the waters is already polluted with plastic.

Again, with e-learning, you don’t have to worry about plastic waste at all. You can do everything online without having to generate actual trash.

You don’t have to cover new books with plastic, hoard plastic pens, or refill plastic ink cartridges. With e-learning, you will have access to e-books, online journals, and other learning materials to study and review. You will use a word processing software like Microsoft Word to create reports. You will use e-mail, chat, video, and other platforms to communicate and send files.

Conserves natural resources Other than gas and plastic, e-learning demands fewer natural resources than on-site learning.

A classroom will need space and electricity to be a functional learning setting. At any point in the day, students and teachers alike will need water and food.

Changes in climate also mean a higher demand for certain resources. Warmer days will require a cooler learning environment which increases the workload of the air-conditioning unit. In turn, this increases the requirement for electricity.

Schools eventually expand, and renovations or enhancements entail more metal, plastic, wood, cement, and nonrenewable resources. Expansions may also mean cutting down trees and removing natural vegetation, which tips off the balance in the ecosystem.

Saves trees When you take up an e-learning course, you go entirely paperless.

You can research, take down notes, answer exams, connect with fellow students, and send feedback all without having to use a single sheet of paper at all. Modern word processors now allow you to create, edit, send, share, and publish documents.

Did you know that the paper manufacturing industry is the third-largest user of fossil fuels in the world? Even if paper itself is biodegradable, the means to produce it is not quite environmentally friendly.

On average, one tree can produce up to 20,000 sheets or about 4 reams of paper. It doesn’t sound that bad, does it? But if you count how many students use paper, and how many schools are there in the world—then you would realize how much paper is used and wasted every day.

Then there are offices. How much paper is used to train employees and communicate with colleagues? If US companies cut office paper even just by 10%, carbon emissions decrease to about 1.6 million tons less. That’s like keeping 280,000 vehicles off the streets!

The other side But there’s the argument saying that e-learning is not exempt from using resources at all, that it requires far more electricity than on-site learning does.

E-learning needs the basics: computer, electricity, and Internet connectivity. Depending on the course provider, more equipment or gadgets may be needed.

The increasing demand for online courses has led others to point out that this negates any energy savings due to the high amounts of electricity required to run servers. However, the same study by SEI and OUDIG disproves this claim.

While it is true that the most significant environmental impact of e-learning is in computing, which adds about 53 lbs of CO2 to the air for every student, there is a 90% savings in energy and CO2 emissions in transportation, campus area, and residential energy—which far outweighs the former.

Have you tried any online course? How did your personal experience help the environment?