In the summer 2023 term, Year 4 at Hungerford Primary School and their teachers Mrs Pugh and Mr Lambert launched a project looking at the impact of the school’s daily snacktime on the environment. This report has been collated by the pupils and we thank them for sharing it with us.
By 2050, there will be more plastic then fish in the sea. 8 million tonnes of plastic are being dumped into our oceans each year. We are mistreating our oceans and wildlife.
In the UK alone, 2.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging were generated in 2021. Most of that ends up in our rivers and flows into our seas.
Our sea life is dying. 1 million sea birds killed by plastic pollution every year. Dead whales are being washed up with thousands of pieces of plastic in their stomachs. Strangling and entangled by our toxic terror – plastic!
We know plastic is a mind-blowing invention. It gives us incredible medical equipment such as prosthetic limbs and surgical machinery. We also know that plastic packaging can be useful in keeping our food fresh for longer.
But the majority of our plastic pollution consists of single-use, throwaway items. A thunderstorm of tiny, careless actions.
We invited Dr Glover from Hungerford Environmental Action Team to talk to us about the problem so that we could understand how to live more sustainably and reduce our reliance on single use plastic.
She explained about our ‘carbon footprint’, how burning fossil fuels puts more carbon in the atmosphere and warms the climate and that plastic also comes from fossil fuels.
Dr Glover told us that since 1950, 8 billion tonnes of plastic have been made, less than 10% of plastic has been recycled and the world already makes much more plastic than factories can recycle but some fossil fuel companies want to keep making more plastic.
Worryingly, she helped us realise that recycling isn’t really the best solution, recycling is actually a trap. Instead we have to reduce what we consume.
She also explained that we are wasting lots of energy when we transport food across the world and that we should try to grow locally sourced food whenever we can.
What is happening in our school?
After Dr Glover’s visit, we decided to research what is happening in our school and went on a litter pick. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves emptying the bins in the playground to see how much single-use plastic there was in our school.
We found lots of unhealthy snack wrappers, some of which contained peanuts and chocolate. There were also lots of crisp packets and even fizzy drink cans.
We also found lots of reusable plastic that had been thrown away thoughtlessly.
This makes us feel shocked, guilty, horrified and petrified for the future. We want to make a change.
We know it’s hard and can be expensive to do the right thing. But there’s no such thing as single-use plastic. Once it’s made its way into the ocean, it can’t go away. It can’t disappear. There’s no turning back. It sits with us forever. So it’s time to put our best foot forward and take action to make our snacks plastic free.
We interviewed Ronnie and she explained that in the playground alone, around 12 sacks of rubbish were emptied per week. Ronnie felt that children are wasting more food than ever before and that perhaps they are more anxious to get out and play and don’t have time to eat.
We interviewed parents:
All those that replied said that they only provide a healthy snack for their children and they wanted the school to be free of single use plastic where possible.
We interviewed groups of children in most year groups:
Most children said they felt they needed a snack. Year 6 children in particular felt that older children needed more energy and get hungrier.
The overwhelming majority of children felt that we should have healthier snacks without wrappers but there were a couple of children who felt it was nice to have unhealthy snacks on occasion!
The factors contributing to excess waste were lack of time, that they didn’t like the fruit and sometimes the poor quality of fruit. As shown in this bin – there were at least 40 fresh tomatoes thrown in it:
What we want to do about the problem
At Hungerford Primary, we are facing our mightiest challenge yet. We know that we have to reduce our single-use plastic. If it’s wrapped around our snacks and in our playground bins today, it’s slithering into our canals and rivers tomorrow and suffocating our oceans forever.
It’s easy to think “I’m only one person. What can I do?”
But we are a big school so we can help stop this surge of plastic if everyone takes small actions. The cleaner our school community, the cleaner our seas. We are the pupils of HPS. We are the future and we intend to clean up our mess.
We have come up with five aims:
1) To have plastic-free snacks – For the school to provide fruit for KS2 at snack time on the playground.
Challenge: How do we stop children bringing in wrapped snacks?
Solution: We need to talk to our school community and share the information we have. We could hold an assembly for children and parents. We also need to notify parents that this is happening by ping. If we get this right and parents are on board, there would be no plastic waste and less food waste. Perhaps we can tell children to put their fruit and veg snacks in an open tray so they’re all visible.
Challenge: How can we get teachers on board? We will need to persuade teachers to monitor things.
Solution: We have teacher ambassadors to help spread the word and maybe we provide healthy snacks for the staff room as well.
But what about the cost?
We worked out that x6 large carrots chopped into little sticks could feed x2 classes. The cost was 63p. We rounded this up to £1 to work out what the cost for all KS2 classes would be over 38 weeks. It was £760. If we costed snacks per year group at £2 per day it would be £1,520 and at £3 per day, it would be £2,280 per year.
But who would pay?
Parents could be asked to contribute some money and we could ask Tesco and Hungerford market for donations. We could create an allotment big enough to feed the school.
Do all children actually need a snack every day?
2) Encouraging each other to make healthier choices – including the teachers!
What are the challenges and how do we overcome them?
Challenge: Children prefer sweet, unhealthy snacks and parents are buying them something they know they will eat. Changing our habits is difficult.
Solution: Teacher and children who are ‘ambassadors’ need to persuade and encourage by introducing new, exciting, healthy alternatives such as snacks using the air-fryers we have been donated by Hungerford Food Community. We could set up a time to do a demonstration for each year group.
We have also conducted a questionnaire with pupils across the school:
Challenge: Time could be an issue if there’s an expectation that each year group has to use the airfryers.
Solution: The air-fryers could be timetabled so each class can have a slot.
Challenge: What about the staff? Staff habits will be hard to crack. They are set in their ways and won’t want to be told what to eat and the staff room bin has a lot of plastic in it.
Solution: Meet with staff to share information about what’s happening – the big picture. Explain to them that the children are up for making the change but the adults also need to join in If we’re to make a difference.
Challenge: Plastic wrapped snacks may be brought in lunchboxes and children might eat them at snack time.
Solution: If children bring in any plastic wrapped snacks, teachers should remove it and provide a healthy alternative.
3) To stop wasting so much food.
Why? Because food waste put into the bin creates methane gas which is a dangerous greenhouse gas. It will also end up in our rivers and oceans, polluting them. Also wasting food means we are wasting all the land, energy and resources that went into growing it and transporting it to Hungerford.
Challenge: There’s a lot of wasted food left in the bins
- Reduce portion sizes by asking (parent) volunteers to chop up fruit etc
- Give children more time to eat their snacks
- Put any waste in a compost heap instead of the bin
- Give unwanted food to the hungry
- Make food of a better quality
- Share food out to those that need it
Solution: We should encourage children to put their unwanted food in the compost bins. Perhaps monitors in each year group could help with this.
4) To start composting our food waste.
Why? Because it is the best use of uneaten food as composting uses the nutrients from the food to enhance the soil of our allotments where we can grow more food..
How? We will show people where the compost heap is. We will replace the playground rubbish bins with food waste bins. The bins will be emptied by the eco council or the classes in rotation.
Challenge: It will take time and the bins will be heavy.
Solution: We will seek money so that we can get wheeled trollies
Challenge: What about rats?
Solution: We will empty the bins regularly and make the compost heap rat proof. We will put out rat traps and make sure the compost bins aren’t near the playground.
5) To grow our own healthy snacks in our allotment.
The aim is to grow our own healthy which have no food miles, no packaging and are very nutritious. We have already started gauging response from the pupils in KS2 by sharing the vegetables grown in the garden with Mrs Jenkins.
Challenge: Who will manage the allotment?
Solution: KS2 will take it in turns to tend and water the allotment. We will need a bigger allotment and possibly a greenhouse.
Challenges: It has been tried before and needs someone to keep it up?
Solution: but surely we have to keep trying. We need ambassadors to keep the work going and perhaps an after school club to help grow and nurture our allotment.
Challenge: Where will we get the money from?
Solution: We will try and raise funds from sales. We will ask the PTA for donations and seek help from business in the community.
Challenge: Who will look after the allotment in the Summer holiday?
Solution: Innov8 could have a gardening club in the summer to help.
“I feel like the children are doing more than the adults.”
Our future is leaving port. We will row. Others will sail with us but we need you to be our guiding rudder.