Blog by Artie
Sustainable Merton Young Community Champion
Schools, the place where children will spend the majority of their waking hours, can produce large quantities of plastic waste to keep up with the demands of school life. Wasted items include stationary, plastic cutlery and drinking cups, plastic-containing wipes, and gloves for cleaning the classrooms. Since the pandemic, schools have also used a significant number of single-use, disposable masks and are cleaning more frequently.
Almost all of these problems can be replaced with reusable or recyclable options like metal cutlery and paper cups. However, the main issue is where the plastic items go once they have been used. Recycling bins should be easily accessible at your school and if you think there could be more, get in touch with your sustainability committee. If you don’t have a committee, you can set up a meeting with your tutor/headteacher and ask for their support in setting one up with help from tools such as Let Go Zero.
Another example of helping your school reduce its plastic waste is by encouraging investment in more sustainable technologies. For example, large plastic water coolers and cups can be easily replaced with more sustainable options such as metal piped water fountains. The cups are not even required as your school could encourage the use of reusable water bottles that are easily transportable.
Tuck shops and vending machines are another major source of plastic waste - crisp packets, chocolate wrappers and drinks bottles, to name a few! Schools can reduce plastic waste by supporting companies that produce recyclable or compostable packaging. If your school provides hot lunches, it could begin making food for tuck shops instead of buying externally imported food in wrappers. This could not only be cheaper but tastier too. Single-use ketchup sachets or other various sauces can easily be replaced with larger dispensers. If your school does not have hot lunches, it should encourage students to choose single-use plastic-free options for packed lunches and at least provide the facilities needed to safely recycle plastic wrappers, though plastic-wrapped food should be discouraged.
The most effective way to reduce plastic waste in schools is through education on the 3 main elements of waste reduction: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Teachers should be encouraged to model sustainable behaviours at school such as the use of reusable coffee cups. Time should be dedicated to educating pupils, whether through talks, presentations or educational videos, every little helps! Even detentions could be used more positively by getting students involved with litter picking or creating posters to encourage behaviour change.
Uniform that is no longer needed is often thrown away. Most of the time, it is made of 100% polyester or nylon because it is cheap, tough, and quick drying but it's plastic. But instead of it ending up in landfill, second hand uniform sales can be set up to encourage reuse and good quality items can be sold at a reduced price. Purchasing second hand school uniform should always be an option as it reduces the need to buy new clothes and the money can be channelled back into the school.
In conclusion, schools that are making positive changes to reduce plastic waste can share their successes and challenges and encourage and inspire others to do more.