Schools act on environment

Sustainability Committee members from Ballarat Clarendon College, Albert Smallwood and Olivia Putland, showing off their new school biodegradable crockery. Photo Chelsea Byrne.
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Schools across Ballarat are doing their part to take care of our environment. Chelsea Byrne reports.

Schools across Ballarat are doing their bit to help save the environment with students actively engaged in education on the importance of sustainable living habits.

Ballarat Clarendon College Year 12 students Albert Smallwood and Olivia Putland are members of the schools’ sustainability committee. The committee involves over 20 students, ranging from Years 7 to 12. Meeting weekly, they discuss sustainability plans for the school, such as the disposal of soft plastics, organic sugar cane crockery in the café, and the introduction of solar panels on school buildings, to name a few.

Albert, who initiated the sustainability committee at Clarendon, was inspired after his viewing of ‘War on Waste’ on the ABC. The television series looks to critically analyse household, retail and farming waste in Australia, exposing the consequences of incorrect waste disposal.

According to a War On Waste Impact Report, following the release of the first series in 2017, there has been a significant shift in the mindsets of those touched by the series. This shift, being their approach towards the environment and their disposal of waste. As a result, organisations and institutions have adapted an environmentally conscious mindset.

“I didn’t realise to what extent we were contributing to the environment and not recycling properly,” says Albert. “Up until the start of this year we were still sending 95 percent of our waste to landfill.” And although that number is still high, he says he believes they’ve made significant progress in the school’s disposal systems.

Fellow committee member Olivia says the only way to decrease our environmental footprint is through education. “Mistakes have been made in the past and now it’s our job to fix those,” she says. “We can’t keep complaining. We need to take action.” And although taking action may be the hardest part, Olivia says she believes it is the most rewarding.

Clarendon’s Junior School students (Prep to Year 4) are also making a difference in the way they approach recycling, which involves dedication from not only the students, but also their families. For the last few months the students have been collecting bottle caps at home and recycling them via special bottle cap bins.

“The Junior School has also been doing a really good job at adapting their environmental thinking,” says Olivia. “When these younger students transition to the older campus, they’ll strengthen the committee as they will already have a strong base education on sustainability.”

Ballarat Primary schools are also playing their part to educate their students on how to live sustainably and reduce their environmental footprint. Kerry Hartmann from Urquhart Primary School says they are a “fully sustainable school”. Each year level from Grade One to Six plays their own role in maintaining the school’s sustainability. For example, the Grade Ones empty the school’s recycling bins, the Grade Twos look after the chickens, while the grade threes and fours collect seeds for their seed bank.

“It’s been an ongoing process over the last three years,” says Ms Hartmann, who runs the school’s sustainable gardening kitchen and cultural inclusion program. “A Grade Two student recently asked me who’s in charge of looking after our planet, and I replied, you guys are! Their parents didn’t have an education like the one we provide, so our students are the first in their families to start making a difference to our planet.”

Despite the younger age of the students, Urquhart Park’s sustainable approach still depends on student drive. “Nowadays, sustainable education stems from students’ curiosities about the world”, says Ms Hartmann. “The education they receive at school makes a huge difference in their households. But this wouldn’t occur if the student’s weren’t passionate about sharing their education and knowledge with their families.”

Labor MP for Wendouree, Juliana Addison, says she believes that Ballarat schools are doing a great job in approaching their curriculums with and environmental mindset. “We’ve got some amazing Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Programs going on in several of our schools,” she says. The program aims to teach students about food and where it comes from, while trying to adapt their understanding about product packaging and their carbon footprint. “Now families are thinking about how to compost their food,” she says. “Stephanie really did start conversations in our schools.”

Ms Addison believes that sustainable programs in schools also provides students a chance to make a strong contribution to their school’s leadership. “Not only are we saying be a sports captain, be a school captain, or be on the RSC,” she says. “We’re seeing schools across Ballarat promote environmental leadership as just as important as all other types of leadership, and this is really shaping the culture of our schools.”

As a result, Ballarat has seen not only a sustainable mind-shift among students, but consequently in their family units. “You wonder why we’ve got all these great kids out there now, but they received a great education over the last ten years,” says Ms Addison. Now, sustainability programs in schools is a no-brainer.

Although the schools are making a difference through their environmental programs, it remains difficult to measure how far these behaviours follow on from the classroom. “It’s great that the students are doing all of these amazing things at school,” says Ms Addison. “But if Mum and Dad are just going to go to the supermarket and open up all of their plastics and putting them in the bin at home, we’re not really making a difference. It’s about making at-the-counter decisions that reflect your environmental values.”

According to a Cool Australia report, Australians have improved their recycling of household waste by 80 percent. Yet this doesn’t mean there aren’t more hurdles to jump. The report also found that in Australia, each household creates over 2,000kg of waste each year. Families, on average, are still spending up to $1,266 a year on purchased goods that they never use. This means up to $600 food waste from each household each year.

“It can’t just be a “look at me! I’ve got good environmental politics because I care about the world and hold up a sign”, but what are you actually doing at home?” says Ms Addison. “We want people during their decision making processes to make purchases that reflect their values, when considering the environment.”

And if you act on these values, Ms Addison believes, businesses will respond. This meaning, less plastic and less individually wrapped products. “We need shifts in behaviours,” she says. “Not just from kids, but from the grownups that are making the purchases on behalf of their family.”