In times of tightening budgets, how much priority should we give to waste education?, asks Resource Futures’ Education Manager, Sheila Gundry, in the third piece in our series on the role of communications in resource management. CIWM Journal Online Exclusive
The article Yes, Richer Countries Produce More Waste. But Do They Have To? illustrates how, in Taiwan, waste education is fundamental and seen as the main reason that waste arisings have not increased in line with increasing GDP. In the UK, the picture is more variable. Some areas have maintained comprehensive waste education provision – Cumbria, Lincolnshire and Devon, for example – and some parts of London (Western Riverside Waste Authority, East London Waste Authority) have interesting programmes; in other areas it is more piece meal.
Good quality waste education focuses on impact, which provides a clear business case for decision makers to prioritise it. For example: Devon County Council (DCC) has placed a real emphasis on school waste audits and has pupil audit data on over 130 schools. Their education programme supports schools to take action and according to the Waste Education Strategy for Devon schools (2014 – 17): “… the average reduction between 1st and 2nd waste audits is 31%.” Large schools can make a significant impact. Clyst Vale Secondary School achieved a 52% reduction in residual waste, based on pupil data – a potential cost saving of £3,800 per annum.
Effective waste education programmes are a fundamental element of an overall resource efficiency strategy. DCC, for example, has a successful “Don’t let Devon go to Waste” campaign, and a comprehensive waste education programme. These ensure that the messages children learn at school (and take home to pass on to their parents) are the same messages that householders will see in leaflets, the press, online and via social media.
Whereas children used to learn about recycling generally, now the focus is on WEEE or Love Food Hate Waste; reinforcing locally these national campaigns. And as communications are integrated, the message can adapt quickly; following the rapidly-changing picture in the industry. Similarly, there has been a shift from an understanding of reducing waste to landfill to the contribution of Energy from Waste.
In areas where almost all schools are recycling, such as Bath and North East Somerset, schools are encouraging children to move up the waste hierarchy both in their learning and actions. Even very young children can grasp key concepts. At Twerton Infant School in Bath, the 5-7 year-olds are not only personalising their recycling bins to raise the profile of recycling in their school , but there are also strong re-use and reduce messages in their creations.
So, when we look at the extent to which we should prioritise waste education, we need to consider how best the programme can be designed to give a clear demonstration of impact, particularly in terms of cost savings and measured reduction of residual waste. Furthermore, we need to ensure the programme has clear, focused messaging which links with, and reinforces, local and national communications. Then, perhaps, we will reach the level of Taiwan where education is seen as so important that all Government officials must receive at least four hours of environmental education a year!
Sheila Gundry is responsible for managing the education team and education contracts at Resource Futures. These contracts, funded by local authorities, regional bodies and the private sector, include sustainable schools, waste and recycling, and energy and carbon management. With extensive experience in managing education projects, from short-term consultancy to long-term contracts, Sheila is a qualified secondary school teacher and throughout her career has specialised in providing high-level advice and support on environmental education, and developing innovative ways of learning and teaching.