Starting with a few interested students learning about waste in their lunch hours, over two years Trentham School have put in place a comprehensive waste minimisation system with the whole school involved. The key to getting whole school involvement in the system was in dedicating school time to learning and action opportunities.
When Trentham School joined the Enviroschools network in 2017, they had a sense of wanting to make a difference to the environment but no clear pathway for how they might tackle that.
They were recycling cardboard and paper with the Paper4trees programme but didn’t have a school-wide approach to deal with other waste. Their Facilitator, Michelle, had some great examples of what other schools had done to minimise waste, a brand new Zero Waste resource to share and she knew of some good programmes the school could access.
Knowing that you have to start somewhere, the school chose to set up a small lunchtime Nature Club where students learned about lunchbox waste and its effects on nature. Upper Hutt City Council provided funding for the Nature Club students to go on a Hutt City World of Waste tour which showed the students what happens to their waste after it is collected.
They returned with a clear message to share:
“There is no such place as ‘away’ when it comes to rubbish.”
The stormwater awareness drain art was one way to start sharing that message. But they could see that more was needed if they wanted to make real progress towards Zero Waste.
Extending to a whole school approach
When a new Enviroschools lead teacher came on board, she reflected along with the Enviroschools Facilitator and the management team, that holding the Nature Club during lunchtime placed limitations on what could be achieved and the numbers that could be catered for.
The teachers at Trentham could see that if they wanted real change they would need to get serious about the whole school approach advocated by Enviroschools. They needed better opportunities for the Nature Club students to extend their knowledge and leadership, and also opportunities for every class to engage in some learning and action on waste.
They decided to trial an environmental group as an option during whānau time which took place once a fortnight for an hour. In term three, more than sixty students chose the new Eco Warriors option!
This was more than anyone had expected and it meant splitting the group into gardening, litter and sustainability sections. It also meant that there was a much broader base of students ready to provide leadership when the school used a grant from the
Upper Hutt City Council Zero Waste and Community Garden Fund to bring in the Sustainability Trust to run the “Your Sustainable School Waste” programme.
Initially the Trust’s educator helped the school to consider their waste systems. Other than recycling the tetra packs from the Fonterra Milk in Schools Scheme, each classroom had a single bin for all waste with no processes in place to recycle organic waste.
The educator then worked individually with four middle school classes to make worm farms to take some of the organic food scraps. This opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the students.
The Sustainability Trust educator also talked with staff and showed them what a difference good systems can make to the amount of waste that ends up in landfill. They were keen to change their behaviours too.
When a set of bins and signage arrived in Term 4, the Eco Warrior team was ready to help distribute them. They set up a class buddy system to provide ongoing support to each class.
The proof of the pudding
In May 2019, the system has been operating for two full terms. The Envirogroup students think the system is working pretty well. Most classes are getting confident about where to put each kind of waste.
The food scraps that once went to landfill now are delivered to the new compost bins and worm farms built with the support of the Sustainability Trust. The whole new bin system is promoting a lot of discussion amongst children and teachers. What can and can’t be recycled? Why is it so important? What are the alternatives?
The Envirogroup students are still driven by their original concern to keep plastics out of the environment because they know the harm it can do to sea life, but now they also understand that plastic does not break down.
“Food scraps break down into compost to feed the soil – but plastics just stay there forever” – Trentham student.
The school has also made adjustments to routines to reduce the impact of litter in the environment. Students now eat inside at the end of playtime and lunchtime instead of the beginning.
“It is a lovely calm time where we come together – and any waste can be disposed of with care, instead of the mad dash to get out to play. It has made a big difference to the amount of litter seen in the playground,” says teacher Anne-Marie.
And the whole project has meant a significant cut in the waste going to landfill.
“There’s been around a 25% reduction in waste going to the landfill,” says caretaker Mike Robinson, “and we are also saving the school $160 per month in bin/skip costs.”
“Enviroschools has connected us to the resources we needed to make a school-wide shift in the way we approach waste and our engagement with the Your Sustainable Schools Programme. Enviroschools and Your Sustainable Schools worked well together. Kim, from the Sustainability Trust provided all the data and equipment to kickstart the in-class recycling programmes, while Enviroschools supported further in-class learning and provided ongoing support to ensure the programme continues to run well” – Enviroschools Lead Teacher at Trentham School.