06 Jul, 2018
10 : 00
The article below was written by Annique Claussen, PO Affairs Consultant.
“I would like my drink to be served in a ceramic mug please. And no – no plastic straw, thanks.”
Plastic waste. It's an uncomfortable topic to all of us. Tackling it is nothing to win a medal of bravery with. But it's vital. It is imperative that humans start producing less waste – that we start recognising this ticking time bomb, a matter of life and death for our planet, and, thus, for our children and grandchildren.
An Alarming Reality
90% to 100% of all sea birds have ingested plastic now. Many die from it.
Still, the mass of plastic we produce each year equals the mass of 30 million elephants (figures are increasing).
Much of this plastic is intended for an actual usage time of a few minutes only, after which is it considered waste.
Hundreds of landfill sites create a wall of rubbish around the city of Beijing. Hazardous substances leak into the soil and evaporate into the air around these sites, making local residents sick.
– These facts, and much more, we learned during the Zero Waste Month at YCIS Beijing!
Towards a Green Statement
I’d had a few thoughts going through my mind. We cannot rely entirely on others to protect our children's future; there is no alternative to environmental protection; there's no hiding all the waste we produce – hence, what we need is a strong common 'green' statement.
The idea of the Zero Waste Month was born quite naturally during one of our PO meetings. Considering that the Zero Waste Month at YCIS Beijing was the first of its kind, a very new concept for the PO to undertake, it went fabulously well.
We needed students to learn about the topic. We needed parents to hook up with the idea. And we needed hands-on activities to demonstrate what it means to produce less waste. Our project was given the name RE Month, in reference to the six Rs which represent the core of zero waste implementation: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle, Rot!
The TReC Challenge
In a lovely coincidence, the annual Tianjin Recycling and Environmental Challenge, whose co-founder Daniel D'Urso I had been in contact with, was held right at the start of our RE Month. As first-time participants, Secondary students compiled a portfolio demonstrating sustainability-related initiatives at YCIS Beijing, presented these efforts during the TReC ceremony on 18th May, and came back with a lot of impressions of environmental efforts at other international schools. A great start that will find sequels in the years to come!
I am very grateful that the PO's ideas were met with open arms and minds by the YCIS Beijing staff. After all, can it be taken for granted that we were welcomed to step into the classrooms and give presentations to students? Three speakers passionately presented on the topic and interacted with all students from Year 1 to Year 8. Jessie Zhao and Mikel L'Italien, founders of Pursuit Education, will be remembered by each of the Primary students for their colourful ball-throwing exercise: a demonstration of how sadly small a percentage of the waste we throw away can actually be caught and recycled, even if we try to hit the 100% target! Natalie Bennett, founder of the Live With Less project, delved into the depths of our mindset in her talk to Lower Secondary students. “Be defined by what you do, not what you consume!”, “You are the problem solvers of the future”, “Let small actions trigger big change” – I can confirm that her message arrived. Her visuals were described as excellent by Y6-8 Learning Community Leader Ms. Alana Martin, who also attested a good amount of audience participation.
Now that the students were on board with the topic, parents embarked. They were led by Carrie Yu and Joe Harvey, founders of China's first zero waste store THE BULK HOUSE. Again – can it be taken for granted that during a presentation, all listeners become so involved with the topic that afterwards each one will want to stay to discuss, learn more and try to think up solutions? Carrie and Joe achieved this incredible result in both their parent sessions, one in English, one in Chinese; both well-rounded, relaxed, and intensive. Nobody left the room without a few resolutions. It was heart-warming for me to hear and read about how some parents subsequently went about tackling their own waste production. Given the fact that changing one's habits is presumably the hardest task to consign an adult with, this shows the impact of these seminars!
The RE Market
In our world full of material possessions, large numbers of things eventually become superfluous for one person but may well be precious to someone else: Giving a second life to our items is a great contribution to a waste-free planet. Towards this aim, we held a yard sale alongside two workshops for the community, our RE Market. While the rain and choice of day may not have been optimal to draw large numbers of visitors, its cordial atmosphere leaves the market as a great memory.
It was certainly a strange request we put forth to the school ahead of the RE Market: Please hand us one kilo of fruit and vegetable peel, eggshells and coffee grounds, and a pile of shredded paper! Yes, these were needed and well received at the composting workshop, run by Carrie and Joe of THE BULK HOUSE. Only when we have tried it ourselves we will realise how much of our daily rubbish can be treated as a precious resource right at home. No need for transporting our organic waste off – instead of letting it produce harmful methane gas in a landfill, why not have it rot naturally? And then there's some wonderful new soil to return to the ecological cycle! Lots of laughter (and a few worms who help gobble up the rubbish) describe how this workshop proceeded.
Children were entertained by Jessie and Mickey and their colleague Florence Ren in a school uniform upcycling workshop. With their tongues clamped between their lips, kids cut and knotted old uniform pieces into bags, aprons, bows and even a doll dress, weaving the memories that go with this cloth into their new creations, and solidifying our YCIS spirit.
More entertainment awaited them at one of the tables of the market: Jacky Chen, whose team introduced their innovative WeBag waste separation system to the school, offered education and a hands-on game: Is it food waste, a hazardous substance, or recyclable plastic...? The WeBag team will keep up communication with the school and hopefully be a firm part of YCIS Beijing life and education starting next term.
A Foundation Laid
The foundation has been laid. Now we need to build on it. A lot is awaiting to be done!