Change can feel intimidating, and parents may have concerns that getting serious about the environment will diminish the fun. ‘It’s about finding that happy medium,’ according to Sam Pitman, co-founder of sustainability groups Eco Essex and Eco Education. ‘It’s about making realistic changes.’
Say no to single use
Single-use plastics such as food containers, cutlery and straws (just no!) are major causes of waste at events. Do a shout-out for any reusable ‘crockery’ that can be donated, or encourage people to bring their own. Sam says: ‘There’s got to be an incentive. So if the children want fizzy drinks at the disco, offer a discount if they bring their own reusable cup.’ Serve condiments in big containers instead of wasteful plastic sachets.
Encourage people to bring their own water bottles and set up a free refill station. Get your communications volunteers to spread a clear message: bring your own cup and bottle, and bring a reusable bag to carry anything you buy from the stalls.
Avoid too much printing by using digital communications such as social media and the school’s email newsletter. Use those digital flyers and posters to encourage people to walk or cycle to the event instead of driving. A dedicated website is an excellent way to keep all your event information in one place.
Pay it forward
Look at everything on your stalls and ask where it came from and where it’s going next. Buy local, organic and Fairtrade produce and incorporate as much seasonal fare as possible. If you have leftovers, offer them to a shelter or food bank. Ask for good-quality donations for tombolas, and give books, quality second-hand items or free turns on games and rides as prizes. Avoid new plastic tat that will be in the bin by teatime.
Make sure waste areas are clearly signposted and colour-code bins to avoid recyclables being dumped in general waste. Make it a group effort and encourage everyone to participate.
Be creative about reusing items. For example, by avoiding non-recyclable shiny wrapping paper in Santa’s Grotto. ‘We’re not suggesting Santa stops coming,’ says Sam. ‘We’re just asking parents to donate the brown paper, cardboard and boxes from their online deliveries.’ This can be used instead of wrapping paper and is recyclable.
Plastics are a fact of life, but how we use – and reuse – them matters. ‘Plastic you’ve already got, such as decorations that come out each year – that’s sustainable, reusing what we already have,’ says Sam. She also suggests getting the children involved in repurposing materials, for example making bunting to use up old scraps of uniform that can no longer be worn but ‘that could be used at events for the next 20 years’.
Get everyone on the same page. The school may have an eco council you could work with. ‘Loads of children are working hard towards their eco goals, and if the PTA’s not connected to that, they could be at odds,’ says Sam. ‘Find out what the eco council’s goals are and ensure the PTA is supporting those.’