Saturday 24 February 2018

How schools can help change behaviours towards recycling

In my opinion... Laura Sherry

Laura Sherry
Laura Sherry

My niece and I were baking recently; I opened the cupboard and immediately she began to lecture me on the items contained within.

"High salt, high fat and no fibre," she told me. I quickly closed the cupboard, embarrassed by my convenience shopping habits.

It transpired she had learnt all about food nutrition in school, and her brief lecture was the result of a concerted effort by her school to teach kids about good food habits.

School programmes and teachers have a profound influence on our children, and it is undeniable that children can, in turn, exert influence on their parents' behaviours and decision making.

In our quest to encourage best practice in recycling, we saw an opportunity to create our 'Recycle and Change for the Better' education programme, which has been linked to the Social Personal and Health Education curriculum aimed at first to sixth class primary students. It is a much-needed educational campaign that will strive to change behaviours among primary school students towards recycling.

The programme, created with the assistance of a team of primary school teachers, consists of five videos: Cormac the Can, Bridget the Box, Jenny the Jam Jar and Bobby the Box, alongside a fifth video detailing the negative impact that contamination has on the aforementioned recyclable characters. The characters are accompanied with engaging and educational lesson plans, recycling quizzes, colouring sheets, fun facts and recycling projects relating to best recycling practices for glass, cardboard, plastic, aluminium and waste contamination.

Packs have been sent out to over 3,300 principals/green schools co-ordinators across the country, and all the materials are available to download in both English and Irish on

Repak is proud that since its launch in 1997, Ireland has progressed leaps and bounds in its recycling effort and is now one of the top recycling nations in Europe. However, we still have a long way to go, and contamination is one of the biggest barriers to success. Contamination is the act of knowingly or unknowingly putting items such as soiled nappies, grass cuttings and unrinsed packaging into the recycling bin, and it is a huge problem in Ireland.

In some urban areas, recycling bins have contamination levels as high as 40pc. Just one contaminated item can spoil the entire recycling bin, leaving it unsuitable to be recycled and in short, undoing all your good efforts.

With contamination figures on the rise, Repak recognises its responsibility to act accordingly, and we are hopeful that children in primary schools will become our influencers and inspire change for years to come.

Ireland is currently in discussions with the EU on higher recycling targets, which are set on specific materials including aluminium, glass, cardboard/paper and plastic. This is why our schools' programme has focused heavily on these items, alongside contamination.

Ireland has always successfully achieved its packaging recycling targets, and we want to ensure that we continue doing so into the future.

We know that education has the power to change habits forever. It is indisputable that what we learn in school continues to impact our lives for years to come. We hope that with the introduction of recycling information from a young age, our young influencers will become ambassadors for our environment.

We are consuming so much of the planet's natural resources that we require a planet about four times larger than it is right now to continue with our current behaviours. What will we leave for future generations if we don't act now? We need to recycle rather than consume.

The reaction from schools has been hugely positive so far, with many principals and green school coordinators contacting Repak to offer their thanks for the introduction and provision of new materials into their schools.

We hope to build on this success by running the schools programme over the next three to five years.

The success of the programme will be measured by monitoring the levels of engagement from pupils and teachers across the interactive elements of the programme. Repak will also continue to measure recycling levels across the key packaging materials addressed in the programme.

Laura Sherry is Marketing and Communications Manager at Repak. For more information see

Irish Independent

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