Australian High School Gets Rid of Trash Cans

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CC BY-NC 2.0. Shai Barzilay

Students will have to take home any waste that is not recyclable or compostable.

An Australian girls' school has taken the unusual step of eliminating trash cans from its campus. While students can still recycle and compost certain waste items, everything else must be taken home for disposal. The move comes after the school participated in a Plastic-Free July challenge and many of the students are learning about plastic pollution in science class.

Principal Karen Money said it will encourage students to pack lunches in their own containers and to buy items with less packaging. There will be a token system that gives prizes to students using the least amount of packaging. She explained that the same model is used by national parks in Australia: "The waste you take in, you are responsible for taking out."

The school's sustainability team has been consulting with students and parents for six months and support for the trash can ban is strong. Science teacher Andrew Vance said the school had audited its trash and, "in 2018, produced 954 cubic metres of landfill, which cost $13,000 to remove." So there is good incentive for everyone to pitch in with this effort.

One commenter makes a good point on Twitter, that unless this trash can ban results in lasting lifestyle changes, it simply shuffles waste from one location to another. I think, though, that one should not underestimate the effect of having to carry waste around all day long. It's inconvenient and gross, and I suspect that over time students will figure out that making minor tweaks to their habits can spare them the hassle. Additionally, it sends a strong signal to manufacturers and retailers. To cite teacher Paula MacIntosh,

"Avoid, reuse, responsibility – they’re our hashtags for this whole thing. We’re making a statement to manufacturers that we would like our stuff packaged less and in biodegradable compostable packaging, thank you very much."

I suspect that this is just the first of many similar trash can bans we'll be hearing about in schools around the world. After all, the younger generations seem to be doing a better job of mobilizing for environmental action than any other demographic and this is an easy target.