The Government has urged schools to stop using single-use plastics by 2022 and to consider environmentally friendly alternatives. To explore how best to achieve this target Hubbub has teamed up with high street retailer TK Maxx and Homesense to launch Plastic Pioneers.

Twelve schools with over 7,000 pupils have been recruited across the UK to take part in the campaign. Each school has been helped to develop their own approach to reduce single-use plastic and enhance learning opportunities within tight resource constraints. To help deliver their ambitions each school has been given a budget which they can allocate as required.

The flexible approach has brought forward a wide range of creativity, but five common themes have emerged.

1) Single-use water bottles

Many schools are selling bottled water to help pupils stay hydrated. There is a reluctance to move to refillable bottles due to the cost, the likelihood that bottles will be lost and the shortage of refill points. We will see if these barriers can be overcome through the provision of branded reusable bottles, better refill stations, plastic education and incentives for pupils to keep their bottles.

2) The canteen

School canteens have proven to be a major source of plastic waste. These canteens are run on very tight finances and have to cater for a large number of pupils in a short period of time. For Plastic Pioneers, we are bringing in external experts to guide the canteens, helping them come up with cost-effective and environmentally beneficial alternatives to existing systems.

3) Educational materials

Our experience in the first twelve schools suggests that pupils are confused by plastic terminology and struggle to identify examples of single-use plastic. Awareness of alternatives is also very low. We will explore how best to improve plastic understanding and assess the impact of making education materials more compelling and engaging. Pupils in one of the schools will be taking part in a survey of “Everyday Plastics’ which will help them to see exactly how much plastic they get through in a typical week. Plastic artists will also be running a variety of creative plastic workshops to further instil single-use plastic awareness.

4) Recycling facilities

Very few of the schools had recycling facilities, mainly because there is no capacity in the facilities team to address this alongside all their other challenges. Staff and pupils were very keen to improve recycling facilities for paper, food waste and plastic. Most schools identified a large portion of their waste as being crisp packets, snack wrappers and cling film which currently cannot be widely recycled in the UK. Consequently, schools have recognised that reducing single-use plastic must be considered a priority over relying on plastic recycling facilities.  We will assess the impact of the campaign in terms of motivating single-use plastic reduction activity and the consequential changes in the schools’ waste output.

5) Shared responsibility

What has become very clear is that the whole school community needs to become involved in order to meet the Government’s ambition. It is not feasible to rely on a highly enthusiastic teacher or an EcoGroup of students. Instead, successful campaigns need cross-curricular staff support, endorsement from the leadership team, proactive involvement from catering and facilities management teams and engagement with parents/carers.

We are sure that the next few months of activity will be enlightening with successes and failures. We will be openly sharing what we have discovered and will assess how the campaign could then be spread to more schools.

Find out more about the campaign here and follow the schools' progress online.