Leadership and some friendly competition see Return and Earn success
St Brigid’s, Gwynneville is a small school taking big steps to increase their sustainability, using some friendly competition to make their Return and Earn program a success.
The school community has been involved in Return and Earn program since 2019, taking part in the regional partnership program organised between St Vincent de Paul and the Catholic Diocese of Wollongong Environment Network. Through this partnership program, St Vinnies provide a bin collection service, schools collect eligible containers and funds raised through Return and Earn are donated to their social welfare programs. Students are encouraged to bring containers from home, diverting waste from landfill and supporting the St Vinnies fundraising program.
When the Return and Earn program started, eligible containers were being placed directly into the large blue bins provided by St Vinnies. There were some issues with cross contamination, so the school introduced a new collection system supported by student education. Smaller collection bins were placed in classrooms, environment club members were trained to monitor the bin contents, and then transfer containers into the larger blue bins. This new system has resulted in great improvements, with no cross contamination in the collection bins.
To encourage more container donations, Principal Kathy Uroda and the Student Representative Council set up a special collection drive, with a challenge between the three sporting houses to see who could donate the most containers. Each class had an SRC member who would inspire their class to get involved, and families were encourage to participate through school notices. Importantly, there was regular communication and feedback to the community about the program. A bit of healthy competition between the houses, saw more than 2,000 containers donated. This term they will have a classroom collection drive, keeping the program interesting for students and the community.
Principal Kathy Uroda stresses, “It is important for the Leadership Team to take sustainability seriously”. She believes that implementing a successful program, and ensuring it is ongoing, needs the support from someone on the leadership team. Teachers and community have an essential role to play, and having the leadership team onboard is vital.
The supportive school leadership for sustainability at St Brigid’s is evident through the success of their other environmental initiatives, including Trash Free Tuesday, Subpod composting system, vegetable garden, new wicking gardening beds, and their energy conservation program. Sustainability is central to school culture. Stewardship is one of the four school values, and students are inspired to an active role caring for all of God’s creations by being proactive stewards, taking responsibility for the care of our common home and one another.
St Brigid’s have seen great outcomes from their energy conservation plan. The school community put great efforts into fundraising for solar panels, with one school parent raising nearly $32,000 through community sponsorship of his mountain climbing expedition. With a 42kw system installed, energy bills are reducing, and the school is now in credit by approximately $500. Kathy regularly shares the details of this program with the students and community, using an online app that tracks the carbon emissions and trees saved. As of 25 July 2021 the school has reduced their carbon emissions by 37.5 tonnes and saved 961 trees.
Another key to the successful sustainability programs is giving regular feedback about the impact and success of the programs to the whole community. Ms Uroda regularly shares monitoring data with students, with statistics presented each Friday assembly, and there is plenty of excitement from students about their successes. Data is regularly reported through newsletters and via the school noticeboard, and parents and the wider community can see the sustainability outcomes in dollar values. This ongoing communication and celebration reinforce the benefits of taking action, and everyone in the school community knows they have a role to play in making a difference and caring for the environment.
Find out how your school can raise funds and recycle through Return and Earn