A targeted school-wide campaign to streamline waste management by increasing recycling and composting, and reducing the rubbish going to landfill, has earned St Michael’s, Thirroul official recognition and praise — the school being awarded a Wollongong City Council ‘Rise and Shine Environment Award’.
The local council’s ‘Rise and Shine’ campaign aims to encourage community participation in protecting the environment — to increase civic pride, accelerate environmental sustainability and enhance the quality of life for present and future generations. Their annual ‘Rise and Shine Environment Awards’ presentation evening honours local individuals’ and groups’ outstanding contributions to such environmental improvements over the past year.
Wollongong City Lord Mayor, Councillor Gordon Bradbery AM, was on hand to congratulate and present the awards to the worthy recipients - including St Michael’s Principal, Belinda Hughes, and Religious Education Co-ordinator, Emma Groves, who accepted the award on behalf of the school.
St Michael’s teacher and Wollongong Environment Network (WEN) organiser, Katie Kelly, said the school was surprised and humbled to receive the award as acknowledgment of the students' and staff's hard work this year to improve their environmental practices.
“At St Michael’s, we take caring for the environment seriously and see it as our responsibility to be stewards of God’s creation. We want to make a difference, educate students to be actively responsible, and raise awareness and action within our community” — Katie Kelly, St Michael’s teacher and WEN organiser
The road to reduction in waste began for St Michael’s in 2017, when they identified that over 50 per cent of what they threw in the garbage could be recycled, and an additional 25 per cent of their trash comprised food wastes and other materials that could be composted.
“Our goal in 2018 has been to improve the way our rubbish is collected, sorted and disposed of throughout the school. Our focus has been to reduce the amount of garbage going to landfill and ensure that we are reducing, reusing and recycling at St Michael’s,” Miss Groves said. “We're engaging in these steps to respond to Pope Francis’ call to care for our common home and walk together on a journey of ecological conversion.”
Through a CEDoW Environmental Education Grant, the school purchased bins and equipment, and set about implementing a new waste management system.
Their approach has included both qualitative and quantitative aspects — St Michael's sought to enhance the school community's knowledge around the environmental benefits and best practices of sustainable waste management, as well as drive an identifiable reduction in the amount of waste produced at the school with new bins and structures to better separate rubbish and manage their waste more efficiently and sustainably.
Getting the initiative off the ground required a combination of strategic planning, collaborative implementation, and ongoing, adaptive management to make these practices a habit and the system, a success. It’s required shared understanding, responsibility and accountability across the school, as well as clearly set out procedures and rosters around how each bin is to be maintained and by whom. This began, Ms Kelly said, with building awareness.
“Throughout Term 2, staff and students were introduced to the idea of the bin system and how it would work in classrooms and out on the playground. There were plenty of opportunities for students to ask questions and our new bin system was an important discussion point at many assemblies. By the end of the term, all our bins were rolled out with user-friendly information posters and stickers displayed for each, ready for whole-school participation in Term 3 and beyond,” she said.
“In each classroom, we now operate with blue bins for paper recycling, green bins for organic waste, yellow bins for mixed recycling and red bins for landfill. Outside, we also use the Vinnies’ Container Deposit Return Bins to contribute to the NSW Return and Earn scheme” — Katie Kelly, St Michael’s WEN organiser
“Year 5 students have taken on the responsibility of emptying the blue and green bins in each classroom. At the beginning of each term, the Year 5 teachers are given the roster for their class which highlights the students responsible for emptying the bins. Meanwhile, Year 6 students have had the responsibility of emptying the playground bins. The helpers change on a weekly basis and I meet with the students after eating time each Monday to go over their role and responsibilities.”
The initiative has been driven by Ms Kelly and Miss Groves, but both said it has been the combined swell of involvement, input and support from the whole school — staff, students and their families, volunteers and the wider community of St Michael's — that has been pivotal to the system’s success.
“It’s been fantastic to have everybody on board, working towards this common goal. Communication has proven to be a key element of our waste management journey this year. From education around environmental impacts and different kinds of waste, to having clear processes and colourful, distinguishable bins. There have been consistent emails to staff and ongoing updates for students and parents in school newsletters and other school communications,” Ms Kelly said.
“Everybody has been able to see the positive impact of the changes being made and be a part of it. That’s why we’re so pleased to share in this award and recognition with everyone in our school community. It belongs to all those who have helped and contributed to this environmental achievement for our school.”
Wollongong Lord Mayor, Gordon Bradbery, said the spirit of the Rise & Shine Environment Awards began 32 years ago, after then-70 year old West Wollongong man, the late Basil Ryan, collected 110 bags of rubbish from a ‘black spot’ near his home in West Wollongong.
“The award winners in 2018 carry on the spirit of Basil’s actions. They have worked in various parts of the city to make the place enjoyable, cooler, cleaner, and safer,” Mr Bradbery said.
“I encourage all people who are interested in their local environment either near the bush or the beach, to seek out a volunteer group and join in the work that these teams are doing every week. They are actively making the city a great place to live.”
In 2019, St Michael’s has big plans to continue their environmental action. They’re working to further reduce their waste and improve waste management, especially in targeted areas of the school such as the canteen area, staffroom and kitchen area at the back of the hall.
They’re also eager to create a portable herbal garden and school vegetable garden, which will have many benefits for the school, including opportunities for growing their own food, greater community involvement, teaching the students skills around gardening and cooking, and providing a place to recycle compost from their outside compost bins. It’ll also allow students to work cooperatively on real tasks, better understand the role of food in life and where food comes from, and use the garden as a regular part of their learning across a variety of subject areas.
Congratulations, St Michael’s, Thirroul! We look forward to seeing your environmental plans for 2019 come to fruition as successfully as your efforts in 2018 have!