How your school can help save the planet

It doesn’t take David Attenborough to stoke interest in the environment – schools, too, are in a perfect position to educate the students of today to look after their planet of tomorrow. Paul Thorn, an expert in environmentally-friendly facilities and fixtures for schools, and founder of School Toilets, explores the importance of taking environmental action, what schools can do and shares examples of schools already flying the Green Flag

We can’t deny it any more: climate change is real. It’s never been more important to educate children about how to live sustainably and with respect for our planet. Yet MPs recently argued that the current national curriculum doesn’t do enough to inform pupils of the real impact of climate change on the world they live in. Much of the onus is on educators themselves to bring environmental issues to the classroom and to lead by example.

Why do we need to act? Some eye-opening statistics

The climate change and pollution statistics out there can be overwhelming. Here are some of the most significant stats we could find:

  • Single-use plastic waste is a real problem in the UK. The Waste and Resources Action Programme – otherwise known as WRAP – estimates that five million tonnes of plastic waste is generated in the UK every year.
  • The Ellen Macarthur foundation’s investigation into plastics reveals that, if waste is not dealt with swiftly, by 2050 the world’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight.
  • According to org, families throw away 40kgs of plastic per year; that is 40kgs that doesn’t get recycled properly. The Independent’s report into single-use plastic waste states that, in the UK, 16 million out of 35 million plastic bottles consumed each day don’t get recycled.
  • When it comes to air pollution, the findings get worse. Friends of the Earth report that air pollution is linked to 40,000 early deaths in the UK each year.
  • WRAP also estimates that nine million tons of food is wasted every year in the UK; globally, the problem is worse. One-third of the food produced annually across the world for human consumption is wasted. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) numbers this as 1.3 billion tonnes – that’s a lot of food.

Green schemes and incentives for schools

The stats are shocking but should act as an adequate incentive to sign up to one of the excellent, nationwide ‘greener schools’ incentives in existence. The most prestigious is the globally recognised Green Flag Status scheme for schools. Spearheaded by Keep Britain Tidy, the Eco-Schools National Operator for England, there are now more than 18,000 schools registered. Of those, 1,200 schools have the Eco-Schools Green Flag.
The scheme asks you to introduce Eco-Schools topics into the classroom and develop an eco-code that pupils can live by. It’s a great way of allowing children to take responsibility for the environment and pupil-driven schemes are more likely to have a long-term impact, as today’s pupils grow into tomorrow’s adults.
WWF offers a ‘Green Ambassador School’ scheme that, again, places the emphasis on children to become sustainability champions. Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots programme offers free resources for teachers and young people who want to make practical changes.

What else can your school do to help save the planet?

There are practical, short-term solutions that schools can implement:

  • Fight plastic waste with bottle filling stations and promote the use of reusable water bottles wherever possible – you can even get them branded with your school logo!
  • Make recycling facilities widespread through your school, don’t hide them away. Recycle Now suggests performing a waste audit to see where the most rubbish is produced on site.
  • Take part in growing activities, produce your own vegetables organically and supply your kitchen with them. Research has shown that this also has a positive impact on pupil’s academic scores in science, nutrition and horticulture.
  • Tackle food waste in your school. Schemes like Zero Waste Scotland provide excellent educational packs, as does the Waste Week Campaign, which over 1,700 schools have signed up to so far. It’s about opening your student’s eyes to the problem of wasted food.
  • Cut engine emissions by organising weeks where pupils are encouraged to walk or cycle to school, rather than be driven.

Schools that are leading the way

Many schools are doing wonderful things to protect the environment for future generations. St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Maidenhead was recently recognised by Theresa May for being the first ever national Green Heart Hero Awards winner. Over ten years the school reduced its gas bill by 40%, cut waste by a third and built a greenhouse from 2,000 plastic bottles.
Then there’s Kingsmead School, in north London; over three years, a student-led energy-saving campaign saved the school £35,000. Solar panels were installed, a vegetable garden built and they regularly held ‘walk to school weeks’, cutting back on traffic pollution. The school is now a Green Flag school.
When it comes to saving the planet, the more teachers and pupils that get involved, the larger the collective effort becomes across the UK. Small changes can make big differences, so start planning your initiative today.

About the author
Paul Thorn is an expert in environmentally friendly facilities and fixtures for schools – for example, water saving devices for washrooms and bottle fillers for corridors and playgrounds. He is the founder of school sanitaryware company School Toilets, which is based in Bristol. 
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