School stories

Case studies

Here are some case studies outlining a whole school approach to sustainability learning from school ethos, to managing resources, teaching and learning.

There are also some great case studies about how different schools are integrating Return and Earn into their waste management and fundraising programs.

Aldavilla Public School

An outdoor learning areaA strong environmental conscience can be communicated through our students to family, friends and the wider community to create wellbeing for all.

Community Projects Co-ordinator, Aldavilla Public School

Aldavilla Public School opened in 1992 and is located west of Kempsey in a rural setting close to the Macleay River and Stuart McIntyre Dam. In 2010 it has an enrolment of approximately 250 students, with a significant percentage of Aboriginal students.

Read the Aldavilla Public School story (PDF) or Word version (DOC)


  • strong school ethos and Principal support
  • student leadership via the Student Parliament
  • building sustainability into the curriculum
  • networks and partnerships driven by the Community Project Coordinator and students

Our goal

Environmental conscience classes encourage student leadership, cooperation, tolerance and environmental sustainability.

All Saints Primary School

We will be successful when what are now called 'environmental initiatives' becomes a normal part of everyday practice within the school.
Rose-Marie Hoekstra, Principal

Staff and students of All Saints Catholic Primary SchoolStaff of All Saints Catholic Primary SchoolFounded in 1828, All Saints Catholic Primary School is the third oldest Catholic school in Australia. It is very close to a large shopping centre in Liverpool in Sydney’s south west, so has limited open space. In 2010 it had 662 students. Students come from 54 cultural backgrounds and 90 per cent are from a language background other than English.

Although the neighbourhood is becoming increasingly urbanised, there are natural areas of the Georges River, Chipping Norton and Heathcote nearby.

Read the All Saints Catholic Primary School story (PDF) or Word version (DOC).


  • school ethos, governance and leadership
  • focusing on curriculum organisation and teaching and learning
  • accessing support and funding
  • creating biodiversity in an urban area
  • networks and partnerships, including a focus on parents and the home.

Our goal

The students’ capacity for understanding sustainability has grown, but it needs to be continually supported to keep the school active and focused on sustainability and environmental issues.

Bungwahl Public School

"Everything we make is always made from scratch, teaching the kids essential life skills that they will carry with them through the rest of their lives."

Nikki Dixon, Kitchen/Garden Specialist, Bungwahl Public School

Bungwahl Public School is a small government school in the lower North Coast region of New South Wales, which has served an isolated rural community since 1876.

We value learning, communication, respect and safety.

The tranquil location of the school offers a range of opportunities for environmental study. In 2011 the school won a United Nations Award for their Kitchen Garden program.

Bungwahl Public School gardenBungwahl Public School - possum in the chicken coop


  • delivering an excellent education in a warm and nurturing environment
  • school values of learning, communication, respect and safety
  • one of the first nine schools in NSW to join the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program

Our goal

"We feel that our students are developing an appreciation of the rituals and tastes of the table that will last a lifetime"

Sue Hobbs, Principal

Cringila Public School

Environmental Education works with kids on the fringe of learning. It empowers them with knowledge and skills and develops their trust in teachers. It gets learning happening.

David Lamb, former Principal

Cringila Public School has an enrolment of 156 students with three percent indigenous Australians, 45 percent from an Arabic background, 35 percent from a Macedonian background and ten percent from an African background. Historically the school has catered for children of migrant workers and new arrivals to Australia, and has a strong multicultural heritage.

Cringila Public School is adjacent to a steel works, and is five kilometres from the centre of Wollongong. The school also operates as a venue for many community groups including several preschools, a community church, a meeting centre for health and child development organisations and the Arabic Community Languages School.

Hear the students talk about their sustainable kitchen garden.

Read the Cringila Public School story (PDF) or Word version (DOC).


  • an understanding of how the parts benefit the whole
  • a focus on the best learning outcomes for students
  • a model for permaculture practice in education
  • outstanding networks and partnerships

Our goal

Gardens are designed and built to support the restoration of local plant, animal and bird habitats, and to acknowledge the school community's cultural heritage.

Chevalier College

Be the best person you can be by caring for other people, the community and the environment.
A student, after returning from Kiribati

Chevalier College is a 66-year-old congregational Catholic co-educational high school with approximately 1150 students. It is owned by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSH) and operates within their Charism. Chevalier has 100 acres of well-maintained grounds in the NSW Southern Highlands.

Read the Chevalier College story (PDF) or Word version (DOC).


  • school ethos, governance and leadership
  • building sustainability into the curriculum
  • students leading change through an immersion program and student leadership structures
  • networks and partnerships

Our goal

The school motto is Fortes in Fide (Strong in Faith). Students are encouraged and supported to be the best people they can be and to be the best carers of others they can be.

Harrington Park Public School

At Harrington Park Public School, a group of students belonging to the Harrington Park Environmental Action Team (HEAT) are working towards improving behaviours and practices which protect the environment. At the start of the year they conducted a waste audit and, with the staff Environmental committee, have been driving waste associated actions in the school.

The following plans were included in the School’s Environmental Management Plan and associated actions have become part of school practice:

  • purchase worm farms for Kindergarten
  • increase the number of worm farms throughout the school
  • conduct ‘No Waste’ lunch days once a week
  • conduct Clean up Australia day challenge (we reduced lunch waste by 30% in one week one year)
  • look at additional ways to increase the amounts of recycling
  • introduce a ‘Cartridge Rescue’ recycling bin for printer/toner ink collection
  • purchase compost bins and introduce composting and take shredded paper to a local pet shop
  • do another waste audit in August to determine the effect of school actions.

The group approached the P&C which agreed to fund the purchase of needed items such as worm farm and compost bins. The team has observed that there is still some litter in the playground which may be associated with canteen purchases.

As a result of the team’s planning, it has been observed that practices within the school are changing and that students have benefitted from the authentic learning opportunities offered by the associated activities. Also because the student team drives the actions and documents planning in the management plan, improved practices should continue within the school.

Ashfield Public School

This is the story of how Ashfield Public School students became ambassadors for sustainable waste practices.

In 2014, in response to local concern about waste and littering the school community created a three week recycling challenge. For the challenge recyclable drink containers could be collected and 'cashed in' by students for house points with a prize for the winning team.

Students and their families were encouraged to collect recyclable drink containers from their homes and litter hot spots in the local community such as parks, public playgrounds and recreation areas.

At the end of each week students were given updates on their progress as well as tips about common mistakes like leaving non recyclable straws in poppers.

A total of 1261 recyclable drink containers were collected. The winning team, Riley House, collected 454 containers and was awarded a lunchtime disco.

Ashfield Public School teacher Elizabeth Lechlein recalls the enthusiasm the challenge brought to the school community and how the recycling message has become part of the student body's ethos.

“We had some kids begging their parents to take them to different known hot spots like car parks and the Cooks River to find recyclable bottles that could be cashed in,” said Elizabeth.

The school community is now focusing on organics in the playground. A three-bin system for recycling, organics and waste has been introduced through support from a number of grants. The organic waste is being managed on-site through new compost and worm farm systems and is keeping the school gardens healthy.

“The kids love pulling out the waste from the compost bin and getting a glimpse of the maggots!” said Elizabeth.

The benefits?

For the students?

  • Students learnt to 'look for the triangle' – the universal recycling symbol – which has helped them make everyday decisions about recycling waste that even their parents get wrong (like disposable coffee cups).

For the teachers?

  • A hands-on, practical learning activity that incorporated the entire student body.
  • Incentives were given to students to clean up the school grounds and beyond.
  • A whole-family approach to a fun, learning experience was encouraged.

For the local environment?

  • Local litter hot spot areas became cleaner.
Kiama High School - Return and Earn

Kiama High School is a large public school on NSW’s south coast. With over 1,000 students and 90 staff, the school was churning large amounts of waste that was destined for landfill. One teacher, Kimberley Cutting, took it upon herself to change this and turn the school into a sustainability champion.

In 2018, Kiama High School partnered with ABC TV’s War on Waste to reduce their waste and, in just two school terms, they were able to reduce the landfill waste from 15m3 per week to just 6m3. Involving the War on Waste program helped to document and share the school activities.

The initiatives proved a huge success, including over 50% reduction in waste going to landfill, a saving of up to $800 per month in waste management fees and fundraising of approximately $500 per term through Return and Earn. Another unexpected outcome was a massive reduction of litter in the school playground, suggesting an associated awareness and sense of school pride and responsibility.

As part of a comprehensive ‘war on waste’ at the school, students started to collect cans and bottles for Return and Earn twice per week and the school partnered with Automated Depot Envirobank Recycling, who provided bags and regulars pickups of containers once per term for a small fee. The funds earned from this were refunded to the school’s Parents and Citizens Association. Then Mrs. Cutting applied to become a local donation partner, to be featured on the local RVM screen in Kiama. In addition to raising funds, the school saw obvious benefits such as enhanced school and community culture, financial savings for their waste management and overall improved impact on the environment.

Just appearing on the local RVM screen was not enough. Mrs. Cutting understood that the school needed to promote to a local audience and the wider community to mobilise the support they needed. She identified their communication channels that offered a direct connection with Kiama residents, making use of:

  • Newsletters and e-newsletters.
  • Regular posting on their school Facebook page.
  • Presentations at school assemblies.

The school found the communication worked best when it focused on explaining ‘why’ the community should support them. They spoke about their cause – and the positive outcomes to the environment.

The school changed waste management provider to implement commingle recycling and food recycling in the school. New bins were purchased for the school playground, staffrooms and classrooms, including paper/cardboard, commingle recycling, landfill and food organics at a cost of $13,000. It was a priority for the school to ensure that each classroom had a paper/cardboard recycling bin as this convenience reduced the paper inadvertently going to landfill, from 99.1kg to 10.1kg per week.

The canteen also needed a big overhaul, including a reduction of packaging, a phasing out of plastic straws and cutlery, and a move towards compostable and better types of recyclable packing.

Uplifting whole school events, such as ‘Trash-Free Thursdays’ to reduce single-use packaging in the school encouraged students and staff to bring their lunch to school ‘nude’ and in reusable containers. This weekly novelty spilled over to form new behaviours and improved waste habits beyond the designated day.

"This is the beginning of our journey to become a more sustainable school, and the students and staff at Kiama High School would like to encourage other schools to begin their journey too" said Kimberly Cutting, Kiama High School.

Key takeout: Look at the communication channels that you already use to connect with donors, and focus on a message that allows the audience to understand and connect with the cause they are supporting.’

Sturt Public School - Return and Earn

Sturt Public School is a progressive primary school in Wagga Wagga who, through their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) program, asked their year 3 and 4 students to look at ways of improving recycling and litter reduction.

In 2017, they undertook several initiatives including waste audits, ordering of recycling bins and appointing of bin monitors to educate all school students about recycling. As part of their program, the school also introduced a Return and Earn bin for collecting eligible containers.

The school, where the students are firm advocates and users of Return and Earn, continue to raise funds to support their STEM projects and have recently partnered with local Automated Depot St Vincent de Paul who provided new bins for the school playground and regular pickups at a small fee. The students are true eco-warriors, having published a book on recycling, rebranded their town’s rubbish trucks with their class designed super heroes, and taking control of their school’s recycling system by educating their peers and incorporating Return and Earn into the school for fundraising.

Glenmore Park High School - Return and Earn

The Return and Earn school’s category of the Keep Australia Beautiful NSW 2108 Sustainable Cities Awards went to Glenmore Park High School fundraising for a minibus for the Special Support Unit.

Driven by nine (9) staff and 23 students, this project is a clear demonstration of the strong links between Glenmore Park High School and its community, actively involved in the monthly drinks containers collections.

When Return and Earn was announced, the school decided to raise money for a mini-bus to transport students to a variety of educational excursions.

Special bins were placed around the school for students and teachers to dispose of eligible drinks containers. The school’s S3 class, with five (5) students, carried out the practical side of the project and collected from these drop-off points after lunch each day. One of the school Learning Support Officers used her truck to return containers at the Eastern Creek automated depot, and the Support Unit Head Teacher collected the money. Students spent five (5) hours each week collecting eligible containers and the whole community including, parents and staff, the local coffee shop and The Shed, all contributed to make this initiative a success.

Glenmore Park High School won the Return and Earn school category of the 2018 Keep Australia Beautiful NSW Sustainable Cities Awards.

Over the course of two school terms, the school raised a total of $3,500 and increased  the students esteemm as well as the Support Unit’s reputation in the eyes of the school and the wider community. The promotion in the local media, including the Daily Telegraph, Penrith Press and Western Weekender, resulted in a donation of a bus from Hertz Penrith. The funds raised with Return and Earn are now used to buy equipment for the Special Unit such as new ovens for the kitchen and interactive whiteboards.

The Return and Earn scheme has become part of the fabric of Glenmore Park High School and provided the opportunity to incorporate a real-life, tangible learning experience under the NSW Years 7-12 syllabus subject area ‘Sustainability’. It was also instrumental in  teaching students to advocate for improved sustainability, responsible recycling and socially-informed worldview behaviours.

Chris Roberts, Support Unit Teachers, said: “We are very excited about this Award and the sense of achievement that the students have, has been the greatest success”.

Glenmore Park High School continues collecting containers through Return and Earn. By the end of March 2019, the school had raised $9,000. The school is currently using their fundraising for the Relay for Life Cancer Council, as well as sharing it around the school for different causes.