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Promoting “No Disposables Campus” initiative in schools

Let us count the ways disposable items are used on a daily basis at school campuses: plastic cutlery at tuck shops, various types of packed beverages in vending machines, polystyrene containers for takeaway lunch, paper towel in the washrooms, paper documents for administrative or teaching purposes, not to mention festive decorations.

Let us count the ways disposable items are used on a daily basis at school campuses: plastic cutlery at tuck shops, various types of packed beverages in vending machines, polystyrene containers for takeaway lunch, paper towel in the washrooms, paper documents for administrative or teaching purposes, not to mention festive decorations.

All of these are mostly discarded after one use, but their environmental footprint lasts far longer. Not only do they add pressure to landfills, they also contribute to microplastic pollution.
As the technical consultant for the Hong Kong Green School Award since 2018, WWF-Hong Kong has been organising teacher-training workshops and serving as assessors for the Award. To further promote reduction of single-use items in the school sector, the NO Disposables Campus Award was launched in year 2018/19 and 2019/20, to encourage primary and secondary schools to avoid disposables with the goal of reducing waste at source.
Over the last two years, the initiative has served to raise environmental awareness in the education sector. For instance, some schools now regularly review the use of disposable items on campus and implement improvement measures or activities. Among them are St. Andrew’s Catholic Primary School, Bishop Ford Memorial School and Pui Shing Catholic Secondary School, which participated in the NO Disposables Campus Award and achieved the top ranking “Excellent Award” for two consecutive years. Teachers from these three schools share some of their best practices to reduce single-use items on campus:
1. Step-by-step implementation
All three teachers recommend a step-by-step approach. For instance, for packed beverage sale, schools can first start with either plastic bottle, aluminum can or tetra pak cartons, and decrease the variety of products on a yearly basis. This allows time for students to adapt while allowing schools to focus their energy and resources more effectively on implementing corresponding measures.
The three award-winning schools began planning at least six years beforehand, forming working groups to gradually implement relevant measures and education activities. Prompted by the realisation that local landfills are fast running out of space, schools such as Bishop Ford Memorial School saw the urgent need to nurture waste-reduction habit among their students, staff and parents, to prepare them for the eventual introduction of a municipal solid waste charging scheme in Hong Kong.
2. Stakeholder engagement and support
Schools represent a microcosm of our community, with every member a stakeholder. Hence, gaining everyone’s support and cooperation for introducing new measures or policy change is crucial. For instance, adopting on-site meal portioning or e-notice requires support from management level to administrative staff. Implementing the new measures may also increase the workload of janitors and pose inconvenience to visitors. For successful implementation, clear communication is essential in order for the stakeholders to get behind the changes. Teachers from the award-winning schools recommend starting to collect stakeholders’ opinions during the initial development stage and conduct regular feedback at the implementation stage to evaluate the effectiveness and make improvements where necessary.
Apart from merely complying with school policies, students can assume a proactive role, such as by serving as ambassadors to support monitoring and promotion of initiatives. Teachers can also train students to uncover problems, brainstorm solutions and implementing them. Teachers from these schools reflected that when students switch roles from passive followers to that as active change agents, they are more invested in the changes and are tend less see themselves as bystanders.
Interviewed teachers also believe that when principals and teachers walk the talk, a culture of foregoing disposables will be created, which can in turn facilitate students to more effectively adopt the habit. An environmentally friendly campus atmosphere can only succeed with cooperation from the entire school body.
3. Convenience and supporting facilities
Disposable items are ubiquitous for their convenience, making them a hard habit to break. Therefore providing alternatives to this modern convenience can help students transition to these new practices.
For instance, Bishop Ford Memorial School installed hand dryers in washrooms to replace paper towels. To phase out bottled water, Pui Shing Catholic Secondary School installed water fountains at each floor to facilitate water refills. Smooth implementation of new measures, they said, happens with thorough planning to help the school adapt to the changes before launch.
For students who forget to bring their own reusable items, some schools provide reusable cups next to water fountains and spare reusable cutlery to borrow. Students return the cleaned items after use, helping to build the environmentally friendly practice while developing a sense of responsibility.
4. Integrate with value education
Pui Shing Catholic Secondary School noted that the relationship between humans and the environment is valued by the Pope, who’s head of the Catholic Church, making sustainable living an important value to inculcate in their students. But regardless of the schools’ religious background, nurturing students’ environmental consciousness such as promoting “No Disposables” also teaches students the virtues of “respect” and “value” in a real-life context, to help them become responsible global citizens.
Special thanks to Mr Calvin Ng from Pui Shing Catholic Secondary School, Ms Wong Pik Lam from St. Andrew’s Primary School, and Ms Chung Pik Hung from Bishop Ford Memorial School for their experience sharing.
All three teachers acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has made campus waste reduction more challenging. Still, they intend to further extend current practices to other areas of campus disposable items. They also hope that experience sharing with other schools and the community will encourage more people to work together for the environment.
Supplementary information:
Report on schools’ overall performance for 18th Hong Kong Green School Award” summarises the performance of award participating pre-schools, primary and secondary schools, and includes feature examples and recommendations to the school sector. 

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