From Helensburgh to Moss Vale, Unanderra to Ingleburn, our CEDoW schools have celebrated World Environment Day, encouraging awareness and positive action to protect our environment. Students have embraced this year’s theme, ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ in many effective and creative ways - a call to action for all of us to come together to combat one of the great environmental challenges of our time.
From poisoning and injuring marine life to littering our beaches and landscapes, from clogging our waste streams and landfills to being of harm to the human body, the exponential growth of plastics is threatening our planet. Plastics do not break down like other types of waste and the negative consequences of trillions of oil-based plastic items accumulating over past decades are startling - it’s now even recognised as a hazard to public health.
Catholic schools across the Diocese of Wollongong are regularly thinking about how we care for the planet and take ownership of what we do (and don't do!) to protect the environment. But this week in particular, they have called for us all to rethink our approach to designing, producing and using plastic products - particularly single-use plastics, such as bottles, caps, grocery bags and utensils, which are causing a substantial share of the plastic pollution problem.
Half of all plastic we use is discarded after a single use, leading to unfathomable levels of plastic pollution. The ‘throwaway culture’ that Pope Francis talked about on World Environment Day five years ago still exists, but it cannot continue for much longer. Our schools want to play their part in making a difference.
“IF YOU CAN'T REUSE IT, REFUSE IT!” the students chant!
Education around environmental issues is vital to a sustainable future, so many schools have used World Environment Day to promote information and awareness about plastic pollution to students, staff and parents. St Michael’s Thirroul; St Columbkille’s, Corrimal; St Brigid’s, Gwynneville; Mary Immaculate Eagle Vale; Ss Peter & Paul, Kiama; Stella Maris, Shellharbour and St Paul’s, Camden have all sent environmental information and resources to families and shared educational videos and links, inviting students to continue their classroom discussions and efforts to ‘beat plastic pollution’ at home, too.
Many of our Catholic schools are also making a conscious effort in their day-to-day dealings to refuse single-use plastics such as plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws and plastic packaging. They have waste-free or ‘nude food’ days on a weekly basis to reduce the amount of single-use plastic; have water bubblers readily available to support students to use reusable water bottles; and heavily promote their recycling and REDcycle bins and programs.
The future is certainly looking cleaner, greener and brighter for our future generations if the example our Diocese’s students are setting is anything to go by!
So how did our schools mark World Environment Day on June 5? Below are some examples. Click on the school name to go directly to their section:
- St Michael's, Thirroul
- Mt Carmel, Varroville
- St Columbkille's, Corrimal
- St Brigid's, Gwynneville & Good Samaritan, Fairy Meadow
- St Pius X, Unanderra
- Holy Cross, Helensburgh; St Michael's, Mittagong & St Therese, West Wollongong
- St Paul's, Moss Vale
- Holy Family, Ingleburn
- See our Photo Gallery of all the schools' activities
ST MICHAEL’S, THIRROUL
At St Michael’s, Thirroul, World Environment Day was an opportunity for the students to be involved in environmental prayer, reflection, education and action.
“We had information and facts about plastic pollution at our morning assembly, followed by a whole school liturgy in the afternoon. The liturgy brought to life the need to care for our common home and highlighted that although individual choices may seem insignificant in the face of world challenges, small individual acts can make a big difference,” Acting Religious Education Coordinator, Emma Groves said.
“In the words of Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’: ‘education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us’.”
The students enjoyed the focus of the occasion too, picking up many important points about how to reduce plastic pollution.
“The liturgy used multimedia texts that were engaging, but factual too. We used some important symbols in the procession about the environment surrounding us, including a globe, soil, water, plant and the bible,” Jackson said.
“The pictures were eye-catching, but the videos were the thing that drew in every audience member from Kinder students to the adults at the back of the hall. In the end, it was a great learning experience and we hope that everyone has gone away with an idea on how to beat plastic pollution,” Ashton said.
MT CARMEL, VARROVILLE
Mt Carmel Catholic College, Varroville used the occasion of its Champagnat Day to raise awareness of World Environment Day. CEDoW’s WEN Convenor, Beth Riolo, visited the school for the day to engage with students. She ran the environment stall, complete with colourful environment posters, facts, figures and inspirational quotes on display as well as a mix of interactive activities on offer.
The students signed Laudato Si’ pledges; wrote small notes and thoughts to add to Mt Carmel’s bowl of ‘prayers for the planet’; they calculated their ecological footprint online; and tried their luck at the plastic straws guessing competition - the winners to receive a CEDoW reusable coffee KeepCup. Products from The Trading Circle were also on offer for students, including jewellery and tote bags made of recycled plastic like juice boxes and purses made from recycled chip packets.
But the greatest drawcards of the day were the musical instruments available to play, all made of recycled materials such as bottles. Students enjoyed making music with the reusable household items and quite literally ‘beating the plastic’!
Listen to Mt Carmel students 'beating the plastic' with the bottle bells here:
ST COLUMBKILLE’S, CORRIMAL
St Columbkille’s, Corrimal started World Environment Day with a liturgy that explored this year’s plastic theme through word and action. They highlighted some of the key responsibilities we all have in the development of a productive, practical and sustainable environment.
“The statistics we found out about plastics and waste were quite alarming! The liturgy led us to pray for our beautiful world and we were reminded to all do our small bit to help,” Religious Education Coordinator, Joanne Herring said.
Following the liturgy, Principal Brad Colquhoun launched the school’s new environmental sustainability policy document - an environmental plan inspired by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ that highlights the school’s focus on the environment, their current environmental practices and strategic planning for the future.
To celebrate the occasion, students from each year group helped plant their own tree that they will be responsible for tending to and nurturing to grow.
Staff at St Columbkille’s also gathered earlier that morning to take time to acknowledge the day and to pray together for the environment through the use of a beautiful candle labyrinth.
“A labyrinth is a path which leads to the centre of an intricate design and back out again and is used to facilitate prayer, meditation and spiritual transformation,” Assistant Principal, Maria Disibio said, “We created own own labyrinth using the tea lights - a reminder that the light of Christ is with us with each step we take.”
ST BRIGID’S, GWYNNEVILLE & GOOD SAMARITAN, FAIRY MEADOW
At their assembly, St Brigid’s students joined together in song and prayer related to the environment. The school used the occasion to further equip students with environmental knowledge, skills, and motivation to become sustainable and responsible stewards caring for God’s creation, our common home. They referred to Laudato Si’, where Pope Francis highlights the important role that education plays: 'There is nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle.'
Listen to St Brigid's student, Matt, lead their World Environment Day prayer:
Good Samaritan's prayer assembly included presentations from several students on the school’s environment committee and the Year 6 sustainability team leading the school in prayer. Year 6 also re-used boxes and collected REDcycle scrunchable plastics to make signs as a visual display during the prayer. Year 5 ran a poster competition, where students designed a poster for World Environment Day with the focus on persuading others to beat plastic pollution.
ST PIUS X, UNANDERRA
St Pius X, Unanderra celebrated with a school liturgy in the morning, where students and staff all added something made of plastic to their uniforms (something they already had at school or at home, reinforcing the principle of ‘reusing’). From plastic hair bows and bandanas to plastic aprons and skirts, an array of colourful plastic was on display. During class, groups brainstormed ways to reduce and even eliminate single-use plastics from their daily routines.
At the end of the day, students all made a pledge to say no to plastic products - as a school and as individuals. They then removed their plastic accessories - a physical removal and ‘break up’ with plastic as a significant symbolic gesture towards better caring for our environment.
The school had the opportunity to share the day with the Illawarra Mercury and WIN News and show them their mural wall of woven plastic bags - a creative reuse of plastic bags, speaking directly to the idea of stopping Pope Francis’ ‘throwaway culture’, particularly when it comes to plastics.
HOLY CROSS HELENSBURGH, St Michael’s Mittagong & ST THERESE WEST WOLLONGONG
Holy Cross, Helensburgh, St Michael’s, Mittagong and St Therese, West Wollongong celebrated World Environment Day with a whole school liturgy for students, staff, parents and families. The liturgies focused on ways we can all care for our environment - both at school and in our community.
At Holy Cross, this was led by students from the gardening club and the school’s WEN contact, Year 4 teacher, Ms Lucy Barbuto. As a school, they prayed, "Lord, open our hearts so that we may hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor".
The Holy Cross garden club also challenged the school community to keep following the old adage, ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ and provided helpful suggestions for how they could do this. They finished the day with a school clean up, going around the classrooms, their school garden and playground to pick up rubbish, ensuring not a single piece of plastic was in sight.
St Michael’s staff also used the occasion to gather together for a special prayer in the school’s vegetable garden, during which each staff member planted a seedling. Students from the Year 6 Environment team have committed to caring for and nurturing these seedlings - a lovely gesture signifying the unity and collaboration needed to ensure the environment is healthy and sustainable for us, our children and all the children to come.
ST PAUL’S, MOSS VALE
Year 2 at St Paul’s, Moss Vale were getting into the spirit of World Environment Day with their class work. The students used their art lesson to create ‘environmental people’ by collecting items from the natural environment and materials that would’ve otherwise been thrown away, and repurposing them into people for their artworks.
HOLY FAMILY, INGLEBURN
The Year 6 ecology team at Holy Family, Ingleburn marked World Environment Day by doing a special waste audit of their most recent ‘nude food’ day. The student leaders were pleased to report a significant drop in the school’s waste in all areas, especially plastic - the count for plastic bags and cling wrap dropped from 448 items down to 89; and chip packets, from 216 items down to 96.
The team encouraged Holy Family students and families to pack snacks and drinks in reusable containers and avoid lunches using disposable utensils or packed in plastic wrap, plastic bags, foil, cans or cartons.
Global Plastic Pollution by Numbers (and what you can do to help)
- 500 billion plastic bags used each year
- 13 million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean each year
- 17 million barrels of oil used on plastic production each year
- 1 million plastic bottles bought every minute
- 100,000 marine animals killed by plastics each year
- 100 years for plastic to degrade in the environment
- 90% of bottled water found to contain plastic particles
- 83% of tap water found to contain plastic particles
- 50% of consumer plastics are single use
- 10% of all human-generated waste is plastic