St Francis Catholic College

Environment club leading Return and Earn success

An active team of students and teachers are making Return and Earn a success at St Francis Catholic College, Edmondson Park.

The school environment club, known as the St Francis Environmental Awareness Learning Society (SEALS) is a keen group of 40 primary and secondary students. Supported by a similarly keen group of teachers they are responsible for the Return and Earn program at this new school.

The Return and Earn program is structured around students collecting eligible containers for their school house. Bins are provided for each of the 6 school houses, and students are encouraged to add their eligible containers, either from school or bringing them in from home. There is also a collection bin in the teachers common room, ensuring everyone at school can be involved.  

Each fortnight, SEALS volunteers go through the collection bins, taking out unwanted plastics and ineligible containers, and then counting the containers. Each container is counted as a point, adding up to the fortnightly point tally. The house with the most points receives a bonus 50 points – with students vying for the House Cup. There is a points tally board, so students can see how many containers they have donated.

Having the collection system organised via school houses builds house spirit, and adds some excitement to the Return and Earn donation program. Funds from the school Return and Earn program are donated to St Vincent de Paul, who run the collection program as part of their regional partnership with the Diocese of Wollongong Environment Network.  

When the Return and Earn program first started at school they had ongoing problems with contamination, with students putting incorrect containers or other rubbish in the collection bins. So the SEALS set about correcting this, with a comprehensive and ongoing education program.  

Information about correct container recycling (what you can and cannot donate) was provided to the school community through newsletter articles, social media posts, and posters around school. The SEALS group made a slide show to educate primary students. K-4 students are also taken out into the playground, shown the Return and Earn bins and containers, and gain first hand experience about what eligible containers are and how they can donate them.

This environmental education program is revisited every year, so students, teachers and parents are reminded about the importance of taking part and sorting waste correctly. Mini lessons and workshops are linked to environmental events, like World Environment Day and Recycling Week. If there is an increase in contamination, teachers are encouraged to remind students about the system.

In addition to the Return and Earn program, SEALS are active carers of their environment. There is a weekly collection roster for paper recycling and soft plastic recycling has recently been introduced in the playground. A new student created education video “Bin it to Win it” helps students learn about different plastic packaging and how to recycle at school.  There is a school garden, selling herbs and vegetables to staff when possible.

Stewardship of the environment is an important school value - the school namesake St Francis is the patron saint for ecology. School executive is supportive of sustainability initiatives and there is an active staff group, with 12 teachers working collaboratively as part of the SEALS. With a large group of teachers involved, the workload is shared and there is always room for new ideas. Importantly new staff induction involves education about sustainability activities and procedures. 

As a relatively new school, opening in 2016, the school is excited about opportunities for future expansion of environment programs. Once building construction is finished, gardening and composting will have a more permanent home. Additional Return and Earn collection bays will be provided when the new middle school playground is open. Being a new school means there are no ‘old bad habits’ to break, but rather good environmental management is part of the everyday practices.  As the school grows, so does the school sustainability.

Jasmina Cox, Sustainability Coordinator suggests an important element to a successful Return and Earn program is to build a culture within your school community that supports sustainability, and share “as much information as possible”. Ongoing communication with other teachers, parents and students is important, and being open to suggestions from staff helps get people on board.

She also advocates focussing on one goal at a time, “You don’t need to do everything at once, try one thing at a time”. If something isn’t working, then go back to the drawing board. “See it as an ongoing journey, try not to have it perfect all at once”.

Find out how your school can recycle and raise funds through Return and Earn