On the day Ireland made history by being the second country in the world to declare a Climate Emergency, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Richard Bruton visited St. Augustine’s National School, Clontuskert outside Ballinasloe. On foot of this meeting, the Minister launched a new labelling system, unique to Ireland on Friday 21st June, to make it easier for people to recycle.
This small rural school has spent the past two years researching Ireland’s Waste Management Systems and discovered a major issue with packaging and waste separation. They wanted to alert the Minister to this problem personally and appeal to him to action change. Minister Ciaran Cannon set up the meeting, following the ESB Science Blast event at the RDS, where the students had explained the issues and their solutions, and asked him to work with the government on their behalf.
The problem arose with the Green Dot symbol. In Ireland, this European award is given by Repak. It is NOT a recycling symbol. It means that the company who made the product contributed financially towards a recycling fund in Europe and does not necessarily mean that the packaging can be recycled. These funds are used for worthy projects across Ireland; however, problems arose with the system as the Clontuskert students discovered.
In a survey of adults, designed by the students of St. Augustine’s, they found that 84% thought the Green Dot was the Recycling symbol. Furthermore, following an invite to Dunne’s SuperValu in Ballinasloe students were shocked to find that over 17% of packaging only had the Green Dot on it and could not be recycled. The findings in other supermarkets and shops are similar to this. Because the Green Dot is perceived to be the Recycling Symbol this waste goes into the recycling stream and contaminates the rest of the recycling in the bag. According to Campbell Finnie, Manager of Barna Recycling, who collaborated with Clontuskert on the project, some waste management companies send contaminated bags to landfill rather than separating the waste.
At Galway Science and Technology Festival in November, led by teacher Kathy Colohan, students showcased their work and sought to educate people about their recycling and waste separation. The Project won the Overall Schools’ stand Award for their work. Dr. Anne Dolan of Mary Immaculate College and Nóirín Burke of Galway Atlanticaquaria, connected with the class and developed their understanding of the effects of climate change.
Clontuskert students have linked with other schools across the world to empower them to create change. They are currently members of the #NoMorePlastic project involving 416 schools across 68 countries. Here they explore, brainstorm, discuss, create, connect, reflect and share their findings via weekly videos on http://www.no.moreplastic.info/ Collaboration with their global peers leads to a deeper understanding about global problems with plastic, microplastics and the plastic soup in our oceans.
The students received a letter from President Michael D. Higgins who encouraged them in their work. He wrote; “As President of Ireland, I am very proud of the many young citizens in this country who are constantly willing to rethink, reimagine and re-consider the way we live in order that real difference can be achieved. The pupils of St. Augustine’s are such young citizens and I would like to thank you for your commitment to working together, to explore the many ways in which we can address the critical challenge of climate change.”
The students created a website called www.soyouthinkyoucanrecycle.com with a short animation to explain the problems with waste symbols in Ireland and especially with the Green Dot. They have also worked with parent and graphic designer, Caitríona Murphy to design an app to scan packaging and inform the householder of what can and cannot be recycled.
During their research, Clontuskert students found that while 25% of products had both the Green Dot and the recycling symbol, 10.5 % had no symbols at all and 60% of products with more than more two layers, were not labelled correctly! This is not only an issue in Ireland but in Europe also, compounded by the fact that 84% think the Green Dot is the recycling symbol. The new system introduced by Minister Bruton will clearly identify whether an item is widely recycled, non-recyclable or whether more information should be sought before deciding how to dispose on www.mywaste.ie
Principal teacher, Kate Murray said, “The students are delighted that their work has had an impact on the way packaging symbols work in Ireland and that following his visit to Clontuskert, Minister Bruton has moved to make recycling easier for people across the country. This coordinated approach will ensure positive change for the future.”