Never has our mission and commitment to sustainability been more critical. With more than eight million tons of plastic going into the oceans alone each year, microplastics and toxins from plastics have entered the food chain and threaten human health. In Singapore, a mere 6% of plastics are recycled - the rest destined for incineration. Within this context, addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 of Sustainable Consumption and Production has been a key focus of environmental stewardship on campus.
Groups and individuals across the College are working to reduce the use of disposables – especially single-use plastics – in our community and taking and promoting meaningful action to reduce consumption and waste.
From the Creative Reuse Centre in Infant School, to the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurship Development (SEED) course in Middle School, to Design and Technology classes, to Global Perspectives Critical Challenge projects in High School, to numerous sustainability-focused College Service groups, students are developing solutions for Goal 12 in and out of the classroom. Sodexo and the Facilities and Operations Department are continuously working to reduce the use of disposables in the canteen. The Parents’ Association also collaborate with staff and student groups to minimise event waste.
The extensive efforts touch the entire campus community. Here are snapshots of just some of the waste reduction initiatives at East Campus:
LEAP College Service
The Leaders of Environmental Awareness and Protection (LEAP) groups research and analyse campus challenges, such as waste management, that need sustainable solutions.
Primary School: LEAP students implemented packaging-free Fridays in the Primary School this year, inviting the families to send packaging-free snacks and lunches to school. They sold alternatives to disposables such as bamboo and metal straws, beeswax wraps, and recycled lunch boxes. They also captured the community’s attention with their ‘Plastic is not fantastic’ campaign.
Middle School: LEAP students aim to understand the complex waste system on campus. A primary area of focus this year has been composting, working collaboratively with stakeholders to collect, record, manage, design, teach and empower our community and change mindsets and actions towards ‘throw away’. Through application of design thinking, students examine the site and collection process and work with Sodexo to explore and implement solutions. LEAP students are currently designing a home composting collection system; next year, school community members will be able to purchase a small home compost bin which they can empty weekly at school.
The Environment and Sustainability Committee at Tampines House have raised awareness within the boarding community about disposable plastics starting with a film screening of A Plastic Ocean and more recently a beach clean-up at Coney Island. Through discussion (plus some friendly peer pressure), many residents are choosing not to take away disposables from the local hawker by eating in or bringing a reusable container.
Zero-waste event efforts
Family Festival 2018: Parents and Global Concerns groups running food stalls worked hard eliminate waste, for example, coconuts were sold with bamboo straws and then composted (photo at top; read more). Many of the Global Concerns social enterprises sold upcycled products, and an e-flyer produced by the College Communications team encouraged community members to bring their own 'Zero-Waste Event Pack'.
Zero Waste Event Supporters (0-WES, formerly Green Fingers): This Service group collaborates with the Facilities and Operations team and local partner Buddhist Tzu Chi to develop sustainable solutions to College and Singaporean waste management issues. The group works to reduce the amount of waste generated at large school events by overseeing the supply and washing up of reusable plates, cups and utensils supplied by Sodexo.
College Service upcycling enterprises
Boomerang Bags: These changemakers are targeting the consumption of plastic bags, by making a sustainable alternative with upcycled material collected from the community. Through sewing bees, they stitch and assemble reusable bags. Distribution has begun on campus with the vision to roll out Boomerang Bags to the Singapore community.
Circle Enterprise: Through the circular principles set by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, this product design and consultancy student group tackles linear consumer mentality by converting 'waste' materials into upcycled resources. This year the students created Christmas trees from timber pallets and began upcycling the College’s copious Apple packaging material into a variety of usable products.
Tech Tinkers: Students collect and refurbish used computers and other digital tools for use by some of our Global Concerns NGO partners. For example, they supply laptops and cameras to Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in Hanoi to help the organisation bridge the digital divide for the street kids they support.
The Wasters art activism
This College Service aims to creatively educate and provoke for behavioural change. The students recently ‘claimed’ the globe in the Plaza, filling it with plastic waste they collected on campus, wrapping it in discarded plastic from pallets, and asking “Who are the Wasters?” The provocative display challenged all who saw it to examine their behaviour around waste.
Inspiring and encouraging as these initiatives are, there is no doubt that we a have a very long way to go to eliminate unnecessary disposables at UWCSEA. Step by step, we can continue to reduce consumption and incineration of disposables and develop behaviours and enterprises to affect positive, long-term change.