Plastic-Free Schools Are the New Cool Around the World

plastic-free school cover image
plastic-free school cover image

One of the hottest of the hot-button issues across America and the globe has been the environment. With clear signs of pollution clogging up our waterways and harming wildlife, society has started making more efforts to find ways to make things better. That search is now leading to public schools where students, teachers, and administrators are asking what can be done to reduce waste. While the movement is still in its infancy stage here in the United States, across the pond schools have taken the task to heart.

Back in 2017, the Plastic Free Schools movement was started in the United Kingdom with a goal of eliminating school use of non-reusable plastic by 2022. It was ambitious, to say the least, but within a year one primary school managed to do just that. Pendeen School in Devon began by researching what was creating the most amount of plastic waste and it didn’t take them long to focus on the cafeteria.

They noticed children used a lot of sauce packets, and the cafeteria stuff went through a lot of plastic wrap to keep food fresh, but the biggest culprit turned out to be the way milk was delivered. Every child in the school received a small milk carton with a plastic straw attached via a plastic wrapper. After one phone call with their supplier, they were able to change the delivery system to large recyclable containers, which are then poured into reusable cups for the kids.

The Plastic Free Schools Movement has been embraced by British schools and has led to the creation of organizations like Plastic Free 4 Schools, which currently has 119 schools in Ireland on board to reduce as much of their plastic use as possible. Any school, however, is encouraged to join their growing list of members.

We want to help your school to avoid single-use plastics, reduce waste and maximize recycling. Your school can then act as an ambassador in your community to turn the tide on plastic pollution by showing what can be done and by having fun doing it.”

– Dr. Tara Shine and Madeleine Murray, Plastic Free 4 Schools

The group, and others like it, all agree that the first step should be putting a team together to making the necessary changes. After that, the next step is to go through the school and investigate where the plastic waste is coming from and finding ways to reduce or eliminate it. Most organizations also recommend holding workshops for community leaders and parents to educate them on how to make similar changes at home or the workplace.I

In the United States, the plastic-free movement is just getting started, but a few groups have sprouted up to lead the way. The Plastic Pollution Coalition is a community of organizations and businesses that educate schools and workplaces on how to reduce plastic waste where they are. Their website offers curriculum for kindergarten all the way up to the university level and teaches students the dangers of plastic pollution and how difficult and expensive it can be to clean it up.F

For now, the push to make schools plastic-free is grassroots at best in the United States. However, as more and more businesses pledge to go plastic-free (i.e. restaurants banning plastic straws), the movement will likely start to grow and spread. With multiple sites offering blueprints on how to make it happen, the question now is:

What will it take for your school to decide to make the switch?

Plastic-free schools

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David Rode

Dave is a middle school math teacher. He's also a musician, a community theater, dad to two amazing children, and he doesn't get a lot of sleep.

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