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WHS Roots and Shoots group runs ZWAW

A group of Wellington High School students have organised a week of environmental activism to promote waste management and recycling to their peers.

Gwen briefs the group while Alexa cuts up raffle tickets

Story and photos by Mark Cubey

Last Monday lunchtime, I sat on a stool in one of the science rooms in one of the concrete towers of Wellington High School on Taranaki Street, listening to Year 13 student Gwen Palmer Steeds lay down a plan to a group of mainly Year 13 and Year 10 students. (The Year 11 and 12s are “too busy being cool” to attend, someone said later.)

Gwen and the rest of the Roots and Shoots environmental group were busy planning the Zero Waste Awareness Week (ZWAW) which starts today, raising awareness of environmental issues among students throughout the week.

The group has been working with the school to implement a sustainable waste management system with organic waste and recycling bins provided for use by students, and part of the reason for the ZWAW is to make sure students know how to use the bins.

But that’s just part of a range of activities taking place during homeroom times and lunchtimes, throughout the week.

Gwen runs through these, getting commitments from her peers for organising and execution duties, while Alexa uses the paper guillotine to chop up raffle tickets for the week-long fundraiser.

Today, Monday, the group is hosting former Prime Minister and Minister for the Environment Sir Geoffrey Palmer in a discussion about NZ’s environmental history. There’s also a workshop on making sustainable natural body care products.

Tuesday will feature a workshop with representatives from Zealandia bird sanctuary, and a Q&A session with Associate Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage, and Deborah Russell MP. Sarah from Boomerang Bags will also be visiting to show how to create bags from fabric and plastic that could otherwise end up in landfills.

Wednesday is Compost Day, and students will also be able to hear about youth activism from some of the climate change team at Generation Zero.

There’s a short break in proceedings with the arrival of science teacher Tony Cairns, and his dispensing of vegan and gluten free biscuits and offers of coffee.

Then the plan for Thursday is outlined: staff from the Wellington City Council recycling team will be visiting, to help educate students on how to use the new bins and help reduce waste.

Plus there’s the opportunity to learn more about menstrual cups. This prompts long and enthusiastic discussion from the group about the benefits of the cups, the need to tackle period poverty, and period-proof THINX undies.

I’m not sure if they are amping up the discussion because of my presence, but it’s educative, (“I know nothing” says science teacher Joanne Low). One of the boys is finding the discussion uncomfortable and we move on to the rest of the busy Thursday schedule: visits from Wellington Zoo representatives, and a session on FSC paper recycling.

Friday is Wear Green Day, appropriate not just for the week’s theme, but because it used to be the colour of the school uniform (though the coeducational school has been mufti for decades).

There’ll be a bake sale in the foyer (focusing on cupcakes, mindful of allergies, and ensuring that compostable napkins are used with no plastic forks). The week-long clothes collection will be made ready to send to op-shops, and there’ll be the drawing of the raffle.

Emily and Ursula show off a Weta Hotel and bag

It’s decided that the promotion and sale of the student-made Weta Hotels can wait until October for a tie-in with Wellington Zoo, and for the manufacture of beeswax wraps (reusable replacements for clingwrap).

Then all that’s needed is to find someone (Aidan) to commit to the overdue task of checking and cleaning the school rat traps (32 rodents captured since the start of Term 1), and it’s time to go, with the good feeling that at least part of the future is in thoughtful, positive and well-organised hands.