Thousands of primary and secondary school pupils have joined a major new campaign to drastically cut the consumption of single-use plastic in UK schools.
The schools benefit from being part of a community stretching from Scotland to the south coast, sharing ideas on how to reduce their consumption of single-use plastic.
As part of the campaign, pupils form a Plastic Pioneers committee and audit their school’s consumption of single-use plastic. They then advise on – and experiment with – ways to reduce single-use plastic, coming up with their own initiatives including replacing plastic bottles with reusable ones, banning yoghurt pots and rethinking lunchtime packaging.
Committee members wear Plastic Pioneers badges to encourage their classmates to think carefully about their consumption of single-use plastic. They have also scheduled workshops with expert guest speakers, including Dan Webb, who last week launched the Everyday Plastic Survey which is a nationwide campaign to enable participants to discover more about their plastic footprint; TEDx teen speaker, Amy Meek, from Kids Against Plastic and Mel Fisher, who runs Christmas markets with zero waste brands.
Researchers have found that on average in the UK we each throw away over 34kg of plastic packaging every year – nearly the weight of 5,000 pencils. Much of this cannot be recycled and ends up in landfill, floating around in our rivers and oceans.
In December, the Government urged schools to stop using single-use plastic items such as bags, straws, bottles and plastic food packaging by 2022, and to consider environmentally friendly alternatives instead.
Natalie Bayliss, Creative Partner at Hubbub, who is leading the Plastic Pioneers campaign said each school involved in the campaign has been coming up with different, innovative ways to cut down on single-use plastic.
“Pupils up and down the country have devised some brilliant ideas – from cutting out plastic in their canteens to experimenting with alternatives to plastic prizes at school events,” she said.
“Single-use plastic is everywhere and our schools are no exception. It’s so ubiquitous, we often don’t even register it’s there.
“And yet it’s having an extremely damaging impact on our wildlife and environment. This campaign helps empower young people to challenge whether single-use plastic really needs to be used and to come up with alternatives.”
A YouGov survey in April showed just under half of us – 46% – feel guilty about the amount of plastic we use, while more than eight in 10 of us are actively trying to reduce the amount we throw away.
At Westhoughton High School in Bolton, 35 pupils are on the Plastic Pioneers Committee.
They presuaded the school to stop selling bottled water and through the campaign, have provided classmates with reusable bottles, which Plastic Pioneers pupils helped design. They have also removed plastic packaging from their canteen.
At Saint Gabriel’s College in Lambeth, the Plastic Pioneers campaign has helped put sustainability at the top of the school’s agenda.
Hazel Millar, Head of Key Stage 3 Science and Plastic Pioneers Coordinator, Saint Gabriel’s College, said: “The crucial thing about this campaign is that it is student-led. It has shown my students that they have a voice. Their ideas on how to reduce single-use plastic have been taken up by the whole of the school with huge enthusiasm.”
Just as the schools are looking at ways to cut consumption of single-use plastic, Plastic Pioneers sponsors TK Maxx and Homesense have so far removed the nine biggest contributors to ocean waste plastic from their stores and offices. These include plastic drink bottles, single use carrier bags, straws, plastic cups and non-biodegradable wipes.
Next year, all the schools involved in the Plastic Pioneers campaign will report back on the single initiative that has made the biggest difference to cutting the consumption of single-use plastic in their school.