Students at Errington Elementary School do a waste audit as part of its Zero Waste Program. (Submitted photo)

Students at Errington Elementary School do a waste audit as part of its Zero Waste Program. (Submitted photo)

RDN: $70K given to fund zero waste education program in mid-Island schools

Parksville Qualicum Beach and Nanaimo-Ladysmith students involved

The Regional District of Nanaimo voted to continue funding a successful pilot zero waste education program geared towards promoting zero waste in School District 68 (Nanaimo-Ladysmith) and School District 69 (Qualicum).

The RDN board approved funding of $70,000 at its regular meeting on July 13.

The inaugural program was initiated in January 2020. It was headed by SD68 learning co-ordinator for environmental stewardship, Shelly Gvojich, who appeared at the solid waste management select committee meeting on July 6, where she detailed the success of the program.

There were nine schools participating in the program that focussed on waste management within the schools. It is considered integral to the RDN’s goal of achieving 90 per cent waste diversion from its landfill.

SD68 had six schools while SD69 had three, Ballenas Secondary, Arrowview Elementary and Errington Elementary.

Gvojich said they used a data-driven approach and worked closely with facilities departments to provide staff and students with learning opportunities around shifting behaviours and diversion from the landfill. They also provided students with leadership opportunities outside the curriculum to take on projects around zero waste.

COVID-19 health protocols impacted components of the project, making it more challenging. Gvojich indicated they were not able to meet in person, touch and sort waste, going on field trips and bringing in outside experts to school. But it still wasn’t enough to impede the student enthusiasm.

READ MORE: B.C.-based meal kit company headed for zero-waste

“It didn’t matter,” said Gvojich. “Kids and staff and students are hungry for change in our schools and there were certainly some pivots that had to be made but what resulted was I think an incredibly rich and dynamic program that I know I am certainly proud of.”

Most of the schools and pilot teachers started from the concept of food separation but Gvojich said they quickly discovered it was only a small fraction of the work required. Some school-wide awareness pieces that promoted making better choices, composting, waste audits and some creative approaches were generated throughout the program.

Gvojich said one of the secondary schools, John Barsby in Nanaimo, took on a campaign called ‘Bring your own forkin’ spork’, one of the convincing highlights of the program.

“They eliminated all single-use plastic cutlery from their school,” said Gvojich. “So imagine having a school cafeteria and a diverse food program and they provide zero waste because there’s no cutlery in the building. They purchased re-usable sporks and then they offer students and staff as individuals and classes an opportunity to earn a spork through different environmental initiatives. It was just awesome.”

The interest in the program has increased according to Gvojich as School District 69 wants to expand it to three other schools in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region.

“The idea is trying to do is to hit our entire districts, both of them,” said Gvojich. “We want all of the students and teachers involved in some capacity.”

The board of directors were impressed with the program and fully supported its continuation. They also endorsed Qualicum Beach director Teunis Westbroek’s motion that staff work with the school districts to advertise to the public the success of the programs that the schools have implemented.

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