Wiping out Waste with Cloths in Early Childhood Enviroschools

| By Enviroschools National Team

Tamanuiterā: Sun with qualities of energy, light, heat

Tamariki take an active role in cleaning the hand cloths.

Early Childhood Enviroschools around the motu have looked at a range of ways to reduce their waste to landfill. Audits have helped identify issues and staff, tamariki, and whānau have all worked together to find solutions that suit their situation.

Below is a collection of examples of how this has been addressed, in particular hand wipes, and the results seen.

“Humans are the only species on Earth producing waste that does not readily return to nature. There is no waste in nature and there was very little waste in early societies. As our society has developed, we have created sophisticated processes and products to service our needs and wants. The more we consume, the more waste we produce.” – p 7 Enviroschools Zero waste Theme Area


Wanaka Preschool

Wanaka children peg out the cloth towels for drying.

Wanaka Preschool engaged in a ‘waste audit’ over 2 years ago. We collected all waste over a period of 4 – 6 weeks. The most significant waste was paper towels.  Firstly, we displayed the collected paper towels to show parents and children how much waste we were contributing to landfills. We then explored alternatives, working in consultation with families, children, and teachers. The result was to use child-sized hand towels upcycled from bath towels. We are not only contributing less to landfill but saving money on rubbish pick up as our bins don’t fill up as often.

Tips and tricks:

  • Involve all teachers, families and children in decision-making.
  • Use the action research cycle in the Enviroschools handbook.
  • Take your time with the process as the results are more rewarding.
  • Get a child sized clothesline so they can be a part of the washing and drying process.
  • Use a ceiling hanger in the winter (if you can). Heat pumps dry our towels during the day.
  • Revisit and evaluate as time goes on/new staff members join the team.


Puddleducks, Feilding

Teachers completing a waste audit that provoked questions!

There have been many inspirational changes at the Puddleducks Nursery and Preschool, Manchester Street in Feilding much centred around Zero Waste.  Two waste audits have been conducted since 2019, which have helped to direct and track this change.  Pig buckets have been installed in the staffroom, plastic bags have been replaced by personalised wet bags for families, paper towels have been switched to reusable hand towels; and after a lot of research and consultation; they have moved from disposable nappies to reusable ones using a local company “The Nappy Godmother”.  These changes are not just isolated to their centre, but their success has resulted in these changes being adopted across all of the Puddleducks centres in Feilding and most of those in Palmerston North.  To date 77,114 nappies have been diverted from landfill, which equates roughly to 15 tonnes across the six centres.  This number obviously continues to grow. Read more about Puddleducks, Feilding waste reduction here.


Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten

Cloth towels next to the basins, available for tamariki to use.

Three years ago Pakuranga Baptist Enviro Kindergarten thought they were doing all they could do at the kindergarten to minimise their waste to landfill. Food waste went in the compost, bokashi bin or worm farm and they made their own cleaning products and recycled all they could, however one issue they believed was impossible to overcome was disposable nappies going to landfill. They were challenged to work on this and other waste systems and to take a serious look at reducing their waste.

They worked on this as a team changing from paper towels to cloths, changing to steam cleaning, refusing to purchase items that brought waste into the kindergarten and examining all other waste to see where they could have further impact, and through this were able to reduce their waste by almost 60%.

Then in 2021, their Enviroschools facilitator invited them to participate in Howick Schools Waste Minimisation Project to further reduce waste. A waste audit confirmed that if they could divert disposable nappies from landfill, they could further reduce their waste by 40%. After a lot of research and consultation with families they created a complete support system for diverting disposable nappies from landfill.

As well as using reusable nappies and getting children potty trained, they use washable cloths for wiping bottoms rather than disposable wipes, and toilet paper if necessary.

The children use small individual washable cloths decorated with stars and hearts on for drying their hands and prefer this to paper towels. Staff and students use different coloured washable cloths for washing dishes, cleaning the kitchen, bathrooms, tables, and floors. All these cloths are washed separately and at different temperatures.

In May 2021, when they did their second waste audit their results showed they reduced their waste to landfill by 98 % by getting tamariki out of disposable nappies.

You can read more about this waste journey here.

Kihikihi Kindergarten, Te Awamutu

Washing and drying the hand towels is part of daily routines at Kihikihi.

Kihikihi Kindergarten has created a healthy and stimulating environment through thoughtful planning and implementation. Kaitiakitanga is evident through the way tamariki care for and respect their place. Tamariki take responsibility for waste systems including sorting kai scraps and soft plastics.

About 3 years ago the Kindergarten decided to reduce their waste created from paper towels by buying cloth towels to reuse. After research they decided on “Mum 2 Mum” cloths. These original cloths are still in good condition, having lasted well. Washing and drying the cloths is one of the many practices at the Kindergarten the tamariki take a role in. It is also providing financial saving now the kindergarten doesn’t have to purchase paper towels.


Conscious Actions Make a Difference

An integral part of this shift in practice to reusable products has been working together towards a vision of zero waste. This has included considering purchasing policies and establishing processes that positively affect the environment. Consultation with the whole Enviroschools community at each step has allowed the design of systems that incorporate everyone’s wants, needs and creative ideas.

“Investigating waste is a window into how thoughtless actions can contribute to global issues such as human induced climate change, pollution, habitat loss and over -exploitation of limited resources. Conversely, conscious actions enable us to make a difference to these big issues by treating our resources as taonga (treasures) that they really are.” – Enviroschools Zero Waste Theme Area p 7