Gander Bay school bans single-use items and cuts waste

Students at Riverwood Academy in Wing's Point are bringing their own water bottles and cutlery to school with them this year, after the school announced over the summer that it would stop providing single-use items in an effort to help the environment.

It's amazing to see how much less garbage the all-grade school of 220 students now produces at the end of a day, says vice-principal Claire Smith. In addition, Smith said, getting rid of single-use items also helps students see that they are part of changing the world for the better.

"When you're in a small place, it's sometimes hard to see the bigger picture," she said.

"With this, the kids are really having a hands-on experience, and they're seeing that one person or one school can really contribute to what's happening with the environment and make a positive change."

Testing the waters

Riverwood Academy has to provide water coolers because the school's tap water isn't suitable for drinking, so small cone-shaped paper cups were provided for the students to use instead of drinking fountains.

Claire Smith/Submitted

But last year, school employees began noticing that about half its students were already bringing along reusable water bottles from home, Smith said.

"When you looked in the garbage at the end of the day, you would see half a bin, sometimes more than that, just full of paper cups," she said..

"That's an awful lot of waste that we thought we could try to avoid."

The plan to ban single-use items began from there, then expanded to include cutlery.

This idea's a keeper

A few weeks into the school year, students and parents have responded well to having to bring their own water bottles and cutlery, Smith said.

Claire Smith/Submitted

In just the first week of school alone, she estimates that 95 per cent of students brought a reusable water bottle with them. As for cutlery, Smith said students are coming up with their creative solutions when a fellow student forgets to bring a fork or spoon from home.

"Their friend would say, 'Oh, you can use mine when I'm finished, or you can just wash mine,' and then they would share instead of relying on a throwaway item."

Claire Smith/Submitted

Smith said Riverwood Academy also has metal cutlery on hand to loan out to students if they forget. The school has reusable cups available on loan, but those haven't been needed yet.

Teachers have used the ban on single-use items as a learning opportunity, Smith said, as students ask questions about the change.

"We talked about where paper cups and plastic cutlery come from, where they go when they leave our school, and really use that education piece to help answer those questions," she said.

The hope is that children entering the school system in kindergarten will never know another way of doing things, she said, and that single-use items will gradually fall into disuse in the community as a whole.

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