Eco-consciousness blooms as HOPA ditches single-use plastics

Community Involvement Volunteering Primary
12 December 2018

The Parents’ Association for Oaktree Infant School and Hermitage Junior School, or HOPA, are living life in the fast lane, with around 15–20 events each year. But when they realised that one school disco had used nearly 500 plastic cups, they decided to make a change.

Joanne Denne has been the chair of HOPA in Woking, Surrey, for three years now. With no access to a school kitchen, the team has invested in disposable cups and cutlery to provide drinks and snacks at their events. In just one year, they had got through 3000 small plastic cups, 1600 large plastic cups, and 2000 polystyrene cups, not to mention cutlery, plates, and additional items. When Joanne found out that 70% of our plastic waste is not recycled in this country, and that not all plastic sent for recycling from our shores actually ends up being recycled, she was angry. She decided that it was time to make a stand and stop using disposable plastic.

Making a Change

Joanne says that, rather than wait for change to come, we wanted to make waves at ground level.” The committee all agreed to introduce slightly more expensive, compostable products. It would mean less profit, but they thought parents would be happy to spend slightly more if it meant helping to save the planet for their children. They immediately swapped plastic cutlery for environmentally sourced wooden/​bamboo alternatives at all events, and now only buy paper bags for treats. Their sticking point was still cups. This was when another parent at the school asked Joanne if she had heard of Vegware.

Joanne got to work researching Vegware’s compostable cups and thought they could be the solution. However, it soon became clear that they had to be disposed of correctly, and that the school’s current waste solutions provider didn’t use the facilities required. Veolia (Business waste solutions) were recommended as a collection service, as they both collect compostable cups and guarantee to take them to the correct facility, but this would cost £8.50 a week. Joanne didn’t feel like HOPA could justify the costs, as they weren’t holding weekly events, and only needed access to the correct composting facilities on an ad hoc basis. It wouldn’t be sustainable for the charitable funds they made each year to factor in unnecessary weekly collection costs. There had to be another way.

Rather than wait for change to come, we wanted to make waves at ground level.”

Looking for support

Joanne spoke with Woking Borough Council to see if they could help. Although they wished her every success, there was no clear path for them to send her down, and they asked her to stay in touch if she found a solution. Something that should be so easy seemed to be impossible! This was when they thought of applying for Co-op community funding. 

Joanne’s PTA had successfully applied for funding from the Co-op before, after seeing advertising for it in their local store. They’re easy to apply for and are available to local organisations to fund projects that help bring people together and make a positive difference.” They thought they would try their luck at applying again for a larger amount of money. If HOPA were able to win a bid with the Co-op for their plastic free project’, then they would be able to afford compostable cups, and pay for the additional collection costs until another solution became viable. 

Their dreams came true when they won the bid in October 2018!

Thinking ahead

HOPA have just ordered their first Vegware compostable cups, and held a shopping event with zero waste from their refreshments stall. The committee are still researching one final option for waste collection, as it may be possible to have their cups and lids collected with the school’s green waste, but if not they will be signing up for a weekly collection from Veolia and keeping all their fingers crossed that somehow they will find a permanent and sustainable solution for their ad hoc compostable cup collections within the next six months.

They have appointed an Eco rep to sit on their committee and have signed up to many recycling schemes. HOPA now collect biscuits wrappers, beauty product waste, toners and cartridges, dental care product waste, and are on the waiting lists of several others. Both playgrounds have four new bins and as their money from the Co-op comes in, they aim to introduce more. They are hoping that with clear signage, education, and marketing for their project, they will successfully become a plastic-free PTA.

HOPA have the Co-op to thank for believing in our quest and for giving us the amazing opportunity to trail blaze the way for other communities to tackle our own waste. We would also like to thank the Head teachers, Mrs Alder and Mrs Harrup, who support HOPA wholeheartedly on our environmental quest, and have committed to roll out the education required for this project to maximise its potential.”

With thanks to Joanne Denne and HOPA

Trying to build a more sustainable PTA and school network?

  • What comes after Reduce, and before Recycle…Reuse! Printing a batch of t‑shirts? Keep the branding simple so that they can be used again at other events. You can do the same with PTA banners, posters, and so much more
  • Get in touch with sustainability campaigns such as Plastic Free Schools, and empower parents, pupils, and teachers to make a difference