Twelve schools in Glasgow have embarked on a scheme to reduce the amount of unnecessary plastic waste in their establishments.

The work forms part of the council’s plastic reduction strategy, launched in 2019, that places the emphasis on prevention, reuse, recycling and recovery with disposal always as a last resort.

The strategy is aiming to see Glasgow be free of unnecessary plastic by the year 2030 and is backed up by a public consultation that showed overwhelming support for work to reduce single-use plastic consumption in the city.

Plastic Free Schools is a nationwide accreditation scheme run by Surfers Against Sewage, an environmental charity dedicated to protecting oceans, waterways, beaches and wildlife who inhabit them.

One such example of this is in Hyndland Primary School where eight plastic free pioneers are leading the fight to eradicate single use plastic and reduce the amount of unnecessary plastic waste in their school.

The primary seven pupils are running a project to help the school achieve a Plastic Free School accreditation award from Surfers Against Sewage.

The Plastic Free Schools programme teaches pupils how to run their own campaign in the fight against single-use plastic; from challenging government and industry to creating change in their schools and forming sustainable habits that will continue into adulthood.

As part of the scheme the pupils were asked to identify areas within the school that they thought produced the most unnecessary plastic and come up with a plan to reduce, reuse or recycle.

The areas where they thought that they could make the most change was litter in the playground, single use water bottles in classrooms and the school kitchen and dining hall.

One of the first things the pupils did was to buy new recycling bins and make a short video for the rest of the school, to demonstrate how to recycle properly and which items should go in which bins. They also showed how sandwich cartons needed to be separated so that the cardboard and soft plastic film could both be recycled. And pupils should be careful not to contaminate the recycle bins with bits of left-over food.

They are also collecting crisp packets, that can take 80 years to breakdown, to send away to be recycled into insulated sleeping bag liners for rough sleepers. 

With covid measures currently precluding the use of water fountains more and more pupils were bringing in plastic water bottles which they are encouraged to recycle at the end of the day by putting them into the correct recycle bin.

Next on the list is tackling single use plastic in the school’s dining hall. The pupils are currently writing a letter to the head of catering and facilities management in Glasgow City Council to ask what can be done about reducing single use and unnecessary plastic.

They would like a chance to meet with the team to ask about things like use of polystyrene cups for soup, plastic tubs and lids and sauce sachets amongst other things to see if there are options to cut down on single use plastic or recycle more. The group are hoping to be able to work with the catering team on plans that could eventually be rolled out across all schools in Glasgow.

Olivia (11) said; “Its good that our school is taking the lead in becoming plastic free and I hope that we can inspire other schools to sign up to do the same. All the work we are doing is to show people how important it is that we do something now to stop the damage to our environment and what steps we can all take to make a difference.”

Charlie (11), said; “Through this process we’ve learned about the many different types of plastic that there are and how difficult some of them are to recycle. The next thing we are going to look at is targeting manufacturers to see what they can do to cut down on packaging and making sure their wrappings are recyclable.

“We are going to do a litter pick to identify the most common brands and manufacturers from the litter that people are throwing away and get in touch with them.”

Councillor Anna Richardson convenor for sustainability and carbon reduction said: “Plastic waste is a huge problem and an issue that should concern all of us, particularly because of its devastating effects on marine life when it finds its way into our waterways. It also represents a highly visible sign of our throwaway culture that needs to be addressed urgently.

“This is why Glasgow’s plastic reduction strategy has the bold ambition to be free of unnecessary plastic by the year 2030.

“Our action plan has a mixture of relatively small steps to major interventions including recycling single use cups, encouraging refilling bottles, incentivisation and improving education on reuse and responsible recycling, that will have a cumulative impact on reducing plastic waste. 

“We need our young people to confidently take action to help realise our climate goals and the Hyndland Plastic Free Pioneers are setting a great example for others in their school and in the wider learning community.”

Emily van de Geer, Education Manager, Surfers Against Sewage, said; “We’re delighted to see these young ocean activists from Hyndland Primary School leading the charge against plastic pollution in Glasgow.

Surfers Against Sewage is calling for changes from the playgrounds to the front benches of Parliament and these pupils are helping to drive that change. With over 3,100 schools UK wide taking part in our Plastic Free Schools programme, we are seeing young people just like Hyndland Primary School pupils challenging big businesses and the government to tackle unnecessary single-use plastics in their schools and beyond.  

“Encouraging all schools in Glasgow to become a Plastic Free School as part of the council’s plastic reduction strategy is a positive step by Glasgow City Council to tackle plastic pollution.”