Plastic Fantastic! - recycling at Darton Academy

My granny was a one for some homespun wisdom. An Ayrshire farmer’s wife, born in 1919 she had lived through the Second World War, the rationing and hardships that followed, and she lived by the mantra ‘make do and mend.’ In many ways she was, like many of her generation a recycling pioneer.

“You do know those don’t get recycled?” was how the recycling effort at Darton started. I’d been collecting yoghurt pots and drinks bottles in my class and was putting them in one of the ‘recycling’ bins that were dotted around the Atrium feeling rather virtuous when I got chatting to Janet, one of our cleaners. It turned out that as the recycling bins ended up with food waste in them the contents were contaminated, and besides, there was no facility on site for collecting plastics for recycling. Everything ended in the main bins. My bubble of virtuosity duly popped; and so it began.

My Y10 English class was working on the AQA Step Up to English GCSE course, and we were about to begin a unit on Media Campaigns. What could have been a very theoretical exercise suddenly went live. How could we get Darton recycling? We collected sales data from the kitchens to calculate average annual plastic bottle purchases on site and came to the conclusion that as a school we were generating 1.4 tonnes of plastic waste a year in sales alone, with bottles brought in from home on top of that. The unit progressed well, and being based on a real issue all learners were fully committed. We enlisted the help of a graphic designer to take our ideas for an environmental take on the school logo. We had our persuasive slogans and images turned into professional spec posters. Button badges followed, strictly limited edition- very exclusive! Fully enthused and engaged, all the learners passed the unit assessment with flying colours and we moved on to the next.

However, those Y10s had started something. Posters featuring Boba Fett the bounty hunter from Star Wars appeared offering a ‘bounty’ of 1 merit per bottle. Almost immediately the bottles began flooding in to N101. Other members of staff across school began collecting bottles and sending their learners to me when the sacks were full. Mrs Watson became a whirling dervish of plastic, collecting bottles from every conceivable corner of school. The issue became ‘what to do with them?’ Our campaign had raised awareness and rewarded participation but there was nowhere to take them. Discussions with facilities ended up in a cul-de-sac. So I took them home for my household brown bin collection. Still the bottles rained down on us. So then it was mine and my neighbours’ bins. Still they came, so weekend runs to a recycling centre began.

Over fifty full sacks of bottles were taken for recycling in what proved to be a hugely promising test run. As changes to school began to come into effect, the issue of litter became a highlighted concern. Recycling was pushed up the agenda, and we now have two mixed recycling bins on site. Not purely plastics bins, but a massive step in the right direction. No more weekend runs to the recycling centre for me! We have also trialled a plastic-free Friday and encouraged the use of re-fillable water bottles. A renewed recycling campaign is in the planning stages, one which will be more sustainable going forward as we look to make Darton Academy an outstanding example of recycling excellence. There will be lots of small steps towards one massive achievement. As my granny would say, ‘mony a mickle maks a muckle’!