Intelligence Empowers Action

May 24, 2022

Students from Te Huruhi School show the upcycled keep cups they made.

Students take action on single-use cups after discovering that the ‘eco’ cups used at their school are lined with polylactic acid (PLA).

Most of us take words at face value in this busy world. But recently, a group of school students on Waiheke Island in Tāmaki Makaurau learnt that sometimes it’s best to be critical, when the word ‘compostable’ came with a major caveat.

Year 3 and 4 students from Waiheke’s Te Huruhi School had recently completed a beach survey and audit through Sustainable CoastlinesLitter Intelligence Education Programme (LIEP). The students discovered that single-use coffee cups were a big problem on their local beach.

One of the key things that Sustainable Coastlines aims to do when engaging kids in LIEP is empower them to take action. It’s easy to tap into their love of the ocean – the trick then is to guide it in the right direction. That means giving them the tools and the confidence to make a difference themselves.

The students at Te Huruhi School had learnt to identify a problem, brainstorm possible solutions, and implement the best ones. The single-use cups found on the beach were labelled ‘compostable’, and they had a decent number of them from their beach survey. So, the students decided to grow a kākano (seed) in each cup before planting into the garden for Matariki. Tree planting is essential for the health of our freshwater environments, which eventually lead to the sea, it was a great connection for the students to make. The project would also serve to raise awareness that these cups were being found on the beach in the first place.

Unfortunately, further research by the students and advice from WRT Compost Co and Waiheke Transfer Station revealed that they needed to be sent to a commercial composting facility to break down because the cups were PLA-lined.

The students saw this as an opportunity, not an obstacle, and employed some of the techniques learnt from LIEP to find a solution. The students wrote persuasive letters to Gulf News to highlight the problem, to the eco cup company asking them to clarify their marketing to ensure people understand how to compost their product, and to Keep Cup asking for a discount – which Keep Cup provided for their school!

Instead of waiting for the institutions around them, the students took direct action for their moana. As well as highlighting the problem for the community in general, they took action to ensure that none of the single-use cups was from the school itself. Along with securing the Keep Cup discount, the students also collect recycled jars fitted with a sleeve made from an odd sock. These are repurposed at the school coffee cart for those that forget their reusable cup.

Words and image supplied by Sustainable Coastlines

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