Six year-old pupils on a school Eco Team complained to their teacher about the waste generated by the free school milk programme so their teacher, Andrea Bootle, decided it was time they took action.
Binning the cartons
“Every Friday, our bins were overflowing with little milk cartons”, says Andrea, Eco Teacher at Crabtree Infants’ in Harpenden. “Each child could get five of them a week. Each carton had its own straw. And with 180 children in the Infants’ school, even if only half of them had milk ordered for them, the maths was staggering. 90 children, 5 cartons a week, 39 weeks a year….17,550 little cartons and straws to landfill a year.”
The Department of Health in the UK states that every child under the age of five in the UK is entitled to a free 189ml serving of milk whilst in attendance at a registered day care provider for two or more hours a day. For many children at Crabtree Infants’ School, as at other schools, parents continue to pay for milk after the free entitlement has ended and the children very much enjoy their break-time drink.
“The children loved getting their milk but the waste upset them”, continues Andrea. “We looked at options for recycling the cartons, but since many still contained liquid, we couldn’t see a sensible way to deal with the waste. Adding to that all the plastic that the blocks were shrink-wrapped in and the waste was extraordinary. The Eco Team really felt it was time to act. During the Sustainability Festival, the children pledged to make change happen.”
With the help of their teacher, the Eco Team wrote to the school’s designated milk provider who offered them an alternative – a supply of re-usable plastic beakers and large containers of milk delivered to the school instead of individual cartons.
“Obviously, we were nervous at first.” explains Andrea. “Particularly with the new Reception children – we had visions of floods of milk all over the carpet if they were given open beakers. And the washing up was also a bit of a concern. However, all the staff have been amazing and supported the Eco Team’s changes with no objections and the children have coped with it well.”
Georgia Frost, Reception Teacher, agrees: “The children in Reception enjoy socialising at the snack table. They have gained independence by pouring their own milk, whilst being eco-friendly. It allows them to take some responsibility for the whole world around them; something we encourage in all aspects of school life.”
Stopping the flow of single use water bottles
Soon beakers of milk became the norm for the school and the bins are no longer overflowing. But the children did not rest there. The Eco Team came up with another type of single-use plastic they wanted to stop: single-use water bottles for school trips.
“The children already brought in their own water bottles every day”, says Andrea. “Yet on school trips the school-provided packed lunch came with one and sometimes two disposable bottles of water. When it all arrived for our Year 1 and 2 trip to Southend the children were horrified by the stack of 240 throwaway plastic bottles of water just for one day.”
Again, by raising the issue with their provider and changing their school policy for trips, the children were able to make a big impact. Children now simply take their own reusable water bottles on school trips just like they do on an ordinary day.
The children were so right to challenge what we do”, concludes Andrea. “Their determination has saved thousands of cartons and straws from ending up in landfill and hundreds of unnecessary single-use water bottles. I’m extremely proud of them.”
Check with your school milk provider and caterer about their policies and how you can work together to cut single-use plastic. Crabtree Infants’ School receive their milk from Cool Milk and uses Herts Catering for their school meals.