How Teamwork Makes for Dream-Work
Single-use plastic is a huge issue and one that can feel pretty daunting to tackle. Like all environmental problems, we cannot fight this issue alone. At Surfers Against Sewage we work with many stakeholders from grassroots movements to big industry and from school playgrounds to the benches of Parliament. This teamwork is what enables us to drive positive, lasting change, so why should a pupil-led campaign be any different?
There is a lot we can learn from the teamwork of this young group, whether we are climate activists, politicians or business leaders; change happens when we work together.
We recently awarded Plastic Free Schools Status to Canon Burrows C of E Primary School in Greater Manchester after they successfully completed the five objectives to eliminate single-use plastic in their school. This is an amazing achievement in itself, but these pupils went above and beyond this by harnessing the varying skills and interests of different age groups at the school, ensuring everyone had their part to play. With every individual pupil invested in the outcome of their efforts, there is a lot we can learn from the teamwork of this young group, whether we are climate activists, politicians or business leaders; change happens when we work together.
Divide and Call
The pupils from the Canon Burrows Plastic Free Action Group decided to hold an assembly to get the rest of the school on board. In order to ensure the assembly would have the most impact, the pupils divided up their tasks.
Some made calls to school suppliers such as Cool Milk and spoke to the kitchen manager and site manager. Others got creative and made posters to spread their message.
Maths-loving pupils employed their skills to calculate the numbers of single-use items they were using in school, and tasked individuals in different classes to come back to them with the numbers. The final figures were a BIG surprise. In December 2019, the school was getting through 150 single-use ice-cream pots and 144 single-use plastic bottles per day. Yes – per day!
The school was getting through 150 single-use ice-cream pots and 144 single-use plastic bottles per day.
The team in charge of presenting their findings in assembly started to get radical. They collected the number of single-use plastic milk bottles used in the school per day and per week and revealed these colossal piles in front of the rest of the school. A pin-drop moment! Their assembly had exactly the impact they had hoped for and many pupils felt inspired to tackle single-use plastic after seeing the sheer quantity being thrown out each week.
A Week of Plastic Free Events
With the rest of the school on board, the pupils launched a Plastic Free Week. This is what they achieved in just one week:
- Held plastic-free lunch workshops for Year 6 pupils and parents including a tutorial on making beeswax reusable wraps;
- Hosted a visit from the local authority recycling team and Andrew Clark, a professor in Environmental Science at Salford University;
- Calculated the weekly, monthly and annual numbers of single-use items used in the school before and after the Plastic Free Week;
- Had their campaign week featured in the local newspaper and Parish magazine;
- Held Trash Mobs around the school, dividing areas up to ensure everyone was involved;
- Wrote to local MP, Angela Raynor, asking for her help and to find out what government is doing for the environment;
- Wrote to Coca Cola, Nestle, Walkers, Mondelez and Bel UK about their plastic packaging;
- Visited McDonalds and IKEA to see how they plan to reduce their single-use plastic;
- Wrote to Sainsbury’s and IKEA asking for a donation of reusable water bottles. They received some from IKEA and gave them to community members who needed them;
- Organised a Church service to share their work with the local community;
- Posted videos of their pledges on YouTube;
- Gave advice to a councillor in a neighbouring borough about starting a plastic-free campaign;
- Removed or replaced single-use bottles, milk bottles, fruit pots, ice-cream pots, single-use plastic in lunches and single-use aprons from the school.
WHAT A LIST!
Never Underestimate the Power of Your Voice
Achieving all of the above is an incredible feat, and they couldn’t have done it without coming together to utilize their different skills and experiences. Plastic Free Schools encourages schools to reach out to their local politician and challenge industry. Time for pupils with persuasive writing skills to shine!
Information from the Maths team, Trash Mobs and pupils’ research provided a range of facts about the negative impacts of single-use plastic. The Year 6 pupils’ letters to Angela Raynor, the Shadow Education Secretary, received responses by both letter and Twitter, and the Year 5 pupils received four replies from industry giants after writing impactful letters to them.
Through our Plastic Free Schools programme, MPs have received over 1300 letters from pupils and almost 100 businesses have been challenged by young people.
The more we tell politicians and businesses that they need to act on single-use plastic, the sooner things might change. Through our Plastic Free Schools programme, MPs have received over 1300 letters from pupils and almost 100 businesses have been challenged by young people. This is all contributing to positive change.
The Plastic Free Schools programme is designed to help pupils understand the power of their voice. With this in mind, the pupils of Canon Burrows decided to take the message beyond the school gates. They held a local Church service which received really positive and emotive responses from members of the public who then started to make changes in their own lives.
Thinking about the wider community, the pupils were aware that many eco-friendly switches cost money and therefore aren’t accessible to everyone – this includes buying a reusable water bottle. Canon Burrows thought about this and wrote to Sainsbury’s and IKEA for help. IKEA responded by donating reusable water bottles for those who did not already have them. Inclusion and teamwork at its best!
Celebrate and Continue
To officially achieve Surfers Against Sewage’s Plastic Free School Status, schools need to complete five objectives. One of these involves removing at least three single-use plastic items. The Action Group upped this to eight as a more challenging target and they got pretty close. The work during their Plastic Free Week eliminated single-use fruit pots and ice-cream pots from the school canteen. They reduced the number of single-use water bottles by 61%, milk bottles by 92% and increased awareness led to a reduction of single-use plastic items in packed lunched by 55%.
Even though they have now been awarded their official Plastic Free Schools plaque, their work hasn’t stopped. They are still contacting businesses about the single-use plastic that their school fruit and snacks come wrapped in. They have made personal pledges to the world, posting them on YouTube, and are holding weekly Trash Mobs. The energy and enthusiasm these young people are continuing to show is an inspiration to us all, and their ability to bring people together shows that teamwork really does make dream work!
Well done Canon Burrows.
Power to the Pupils!