Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

It won't cost the earth...

Glass bottles

Catherine Doran from Waste Watch makes the case for introducing recycling and green procurement in schools and colleges, including financial savings. 

The prominence of the environmental agenda in the recent political party conferences reflects its importance in society today. The launching of the DCSF Sustainable Schools framework in May 2006 has provided clear direction regarding the range of environmental and social sustainability goals to be achieved by 2020.

Purchasing and waste is one of the eight 'doorways' in the framework. An average school produces around six tonnes, or 26.5 kg per pupil of waste per year. Being one of the most tangible and visible forms of resource use, it is an area in which organisations can introduce tangible measures to improve their progression against the framework, improve their local environment and contribute to the sustainable use of resources.

Waste reduction and recycling conserves valuable finite resources, reduces energy and water use and reduces the pressure on landfill sites. It has the additional benefits of contributing to the reduction of powerful greenhouse gases. Recycling just one plastic bottle can save enough energy to light a 50 watt bulb for up to 12 hours.

And there is a more pragmatic reason for schools to recycle: Ofsted inspectors have been given a remit to report on the progress of incorporating the principles of sustainable development set out in the DCSF's national framework for sustainable schools.

Changing behaviour

Waste Watch is an environmental charity that promotes the sustainable use of resources through practical behaviour change programmes has been working with educators for 12 years in this area. Monitoring and evaluation carried out by Waste Watch demonstrates that on average schools can reduce 41 per cent of waste and some schools cut their waste by as much as 80 per cent.

For instance, monitoring waste and recycling rates in Rotherham before and after the Taking Home Action on Waste (THAW) programme have demonstrated the role that young people can have as ambassadors of environmental behaviour change for their local recycling scheme. There have been significant increases in the number of people putting out recycling in the area and an increase in the weight of materials collected.

Recycling and waste collection services vary from local authority to local authority. Your local authority waste officers will be able to provide guidance on the types of materials that can be recycled; they may also be able to provide additional resources, including education tools and programmes.

Waste classification is dependent on your local authority; unfortunately some schools may be charged for their waste and or recycling services. However, schools and colleges committed to reducing waste have seen financial benefits through the reduction in costs for their rubbish collections.

Savings can also be made by participating in recycling schemes that can raise funds. For example, Fones4Schools offers a scheme in which schools and colleges can earn money by collecting unwanted handsets. There are reused and recycled by the company in accordance with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive. 

Under this directive, manufacturers and companies have a legal obligation to dispose of this waste and ensure that as much as possible is recycled. Local authority should be able to provide more information on other services that are available.

Green procurement

Green procurement plays an important role in sustainable resource use by reducing the demand for primary resources and stimulating commercial demand for recycled products. WRAP has produced a recycled products guide; your local authority may have produced a local green procurement guide.

Buying recycled paper can make a significant contribution to sustainable procurement. Advances in the last three decades have led to significant improvements in recycling technology and many recycled, coated and office papers are indistinguishable from virgin equivalents.

When investigating a sustainable source for paper, consider what the raw materials are. Paper marked with the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) symbol ensures that you are buying paper from sustainable forests. Paper made with 100 per cent post consumer waste is made fully from recycled materials.

Costs for recycled paper can vary. However, combining it with waste minimisation measures such as double siding and reuse of scrap can offset any additional costs.

Waste audit

After deciding how to involve students and staff in the decision making processes around waste and recycling and its integration into operational practices and the curriculum, a waste audit is a practical way to establish the scale, composition and location of where waste is produced.

This information can feed into an action plan helping the school/college to decide everything from where to concentrate efforts to the position of recycling bins. Follow-up audits identify the successes and areas that need further support.

Measuring resource usage and costs and reporting data back to the community provides feedback and reinforces the positive sustainability actions of staff and students. It also raises the awareness of the economic benefits of reduction and its potential in off-setting the costs involved in recycling.

Teaching students about the importance of sustainability is equally important, and waste reduction has clear links to the curriculum in science, geography, design and technology, and citizenship.

Hands-on activities linked to the curriculum, eco clubs, citizenship days, professional development sessions for staff, waste free lunches, posters, competitions and excursions to recycling centres are just some of the ways schools and colleges have initiated and continue to reduce waste and recycle.

The role of learning has been identified as a critical element in the journey to a sustainable future. We are coming to the end of the second year of the UNESCO-led Decade for Education for Sustainable Development. The goal of the decade is to integrate the principles, values and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning.

The key objectives are to encourage changes in behaviour that will create a more sustainable future in terms of environmental integrity, economic viability, and a just society for present and future generations.

Working with students to make positive changes in their local environment provides real-life learning opportunities to develop the skills, values and attitudes to manage resources sustainably and equitably, now and in the future. 

Catherine Doran is the head of programmes for Waste Watch. 

Further information

There are a range of web based resources available to support green procurement and recycling schemes:

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