Joanne Denne has been the chair of HOPA, the Parents Association for Oaktree Infant School and Hermitage Junior School in Woking, Surrey, for the last three years. Like many PTAs they are busy all year round running 15-20 events. When it came to their attention that at a single disco of only 120 children they had used nearly 500 cups in one night, Joanne and her PTA decided to do something about their use of plastic, here is their story…
Realising the scale of the problem
Joanne’s PTA did not have access to a school kitchen, and so in order to provide drinks and snacks at their events, they invested in disposable cups and cutlery. When they sat down and worked out that in a single year they had got through just under 3000 small plastic cups, 2000 polystyrene cups and 1600 large plastic cups, as well as huge amounts of other additional items, they were horrified.
A commitment to change was made
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.
The beginning of change
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, in order to save the planet for their children.
Joanne says that, “rather than wait for change to come, we wanted to make waves at ground level.”
They immediately swapped plastic cutlery for environmentally sourced wooden/bamboo 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, who provided compostable cups.
The search for an alternative
Joanne got to work researching these 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 it would cost £8.50 a week. Joanne didn’t feel like HOPA could justify the costs as they were not 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 cost. There had to be another way for Joanne and her PTA?
The quest for external support began
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 indeed 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 applied for funding from the Co-op before, after seeing advertising for it in their local store, for a separate issue and been successful. 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 these additional collections until another viable solution became apparent.
Their dreams came true when they won the bid in October 2018!
Joanne says of Co-op bids, “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.”
What next for HOPA and their plastic free project?
HOPA have just ordered their first Vegeware 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 schools green waste, but if not they will be signing up to a weekly collection with 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 biscuit wrappers, beauty product waste, toners and cartridges, dental care product waste and are on the waiting lists of several others. Both playgrounds have 4 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.
Joanne says, “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.”