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School Waste Education

Leeds aspires to be a 'zero waste' city. To achieve this it will reduce, re-use, recycle, repair and recover as much value as possible from its’ waste based on a cultural shift that views waste as a resource to be used in another process rather than simply being sent to landfill. An illustration of the size of this issue in the UK alone can be seen in estimates that 8.3 million tonnes of food are thrown away every year of which 5 million tonnes is still edible. Schools have a significant contribution to make to realise the zero waste aspiration, not only through education but also through their own actions as buying materials and equipment makes the largest single contribution to a schools carbon footprint. In its report ‘Carbon Emissions from Schools’ the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) reported that purchasing contributed to 45% of school carbon emissions.

Producing equipment and resources contributes to the degradation and loss of soils, water, energy, metal resources, biodiversity, forests and the atmosphere. Recycling waste helps reduce this though, as it involves using energy, it can be more effective to repair or re-use items and better still, where possible, to refrain from purchasing in the first place. A type of recycling that does not require fossil fuel energy is composting: schools can compost any fruit waste with shredded paper and ‘waste’ cardboard to produce soil conditioner for vegetable and flower beds. Some schools are even experimenting with composting school food waste. Sources of (more) ‘sustainable purchasing’ are emerging such as the Forest Stewardship Council timber supplies and fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Product design is also considering the ‘end-of-life’ of a product; for ease of separation in component materials for re-use or recycling. An approach, increasingly described as ‘circular’ or ‘closed loop’ economy, means using the “waste” of one process or product as the useful raw materials of another, mimicking natural organic cycles.

In Leeds the ‘Lets recycle….together’ suite of school resources has been produced to support awareness-raising in schools and includes tailored slideshows and accompanying presenter’s notes as well as a number of good practise case studies.