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The possible connections with your curriculum

  • Earth & Space Sciences
  • Life Sciences
  • Design
  • Engineering & Technology
  • Art
  • Citizenship
  • Mathematics
  • Physical Sciences


The people who take up the teacher role

  • Teacher
  • Expert
  • Other school personnel
  • School students
  • Parent
  • Community member
  • Policy maker


The locations where learning takes place

  • Classroom
  • Make lab
  • Other spaces in school
  • Industrial areas
  • Outdoor spaces
  • Digital space
  • Business areas
  • Home


The community stakeholders to collaborate with

  • Local businesses
  • Municipality
  • Families
  • Other schools
  • Academy

The big idea

Around the world, tonnes and tonnes of materials are discarded by industry, business, households and public organisations - including schools. The negative impacts are immense. Understanding the different types of waste and their impact on the environment, and the many ways in which these can be managed effectively and productively, is key to the creation of a more sustainable future. We want our school community to lead the way.

The challenge

How can changes be made to move schools closer to becoming a Zero Waste school?

Main goals

  • To understand the context of this project by conducting primary and secondary research about waste issues within the local community.
  • To explore the different ways of dealing with waste by interacting with businesses, organisations and experts in their local community.
  • To create solutions to Zero Waste schools/buildings and share this with the community.
  • For students to understand that they are capable of instigating and taking active part in driving desirable change.

Main messages

  • The waste we produce needs to be managed to make our community more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
  • Waste can be managed in different ways.
  • There are simple ways to reduce, recycle and reuse waste.

Short abstract

In this learning scenario, students will use their own school environment and its vicinity as a case-study to learn more about material waste. They will focus on a limited number of materials and work in a hands-on way in order to directly relate these big and complex issues to their everyday lives. They will investigate waste produced in their school, explore ways in which waste is managed by businesses, councils and industry in their local area and talk to local experts. Informed by this knowledge, students will decide how to intervene to minimise plastic, food and paper waste in their school, and prototype solutions to move their school toward becoming a circular system.

Learning Units (10)


To understand the concept of by-products, students will send out interview questions to local businesses via email (e.g. cafes, fast food, corner shop, laundrettes, etc). Students will use questionnaires to record the types, quantities and management of the waste produced in these businesses, giving them a broader context before looking at waste in their immediate environment (school).


Students will visit/virtually tour a local refuse centre to investigate the process of waste being broken down and how recycled materials are separated into material groups, cleaned, and shredded. Through primary and secondary research, students will gain an understanding of the scale of human waste production and disposal in their area.


Students will engage in a scientific investigation of each of the three waste strands. First, they will investigate how food waste can be used as biofuel, analysing different foods’ energy content, exploring the question, “How long could we heat the school using food waste?” Next, they will investigate the amount of waste paper produced, and make their own recycled paper. Finally, students will conduct an investigation of single use vs bags for life, and standard plastic bags vs biodegradable bags.


Students will visit local manufacturers to understand how waste and sustainability are considered at a commercial level. They discuss how this should impact the school’s processes (identified with the Business Manager in Learning Unit 2b).


Students will watch a video from Harri, an employee at the Ellen MacArthur foundation, who is trying to change the design industry to reduce waste (e.g. waste fabric, waste from dying/colouring). Students will consider textiles used in fashion/art and will discuss what makes something ‘waste’ vs. recyclable. They will also take part in a Lego Circular Economy workshop.


Students will learn about different approaches to managing waste and see which applies to the retail, industry and school examples looked at so far. Students will visit a local plastic-free shop to learn about some of the challenges they face putting the concept into action. Students will explore whether any of their methods could be replicated in school (i.e. school canteen) and discuss ideas with the shop’s customers for feedback to inform activities undertaken in Learning Unit 5.


In this unit students will experience different approaches to managing waste identified in Learning Unit 3, by looking at food, paper and plastic waste. They will use this knowledge to inform their own solution towards reducing school waste (Learning Unit 5). Firstly, students will investigate the design of a product/system to facilitate redistribution of unused food within school, for those in need. Next, they will be challenged to design a use for waste cardboard boxes. Finally, students will generate, develop and prototype ideas for recycling/repurposing discarded plastic drink bottles.


Students will choose one of the three areas of waste (food, paper/card, plastic), and supported by what they’ve experienced so far, produce a personal response in the form of a product/solution based on one of the 6Rs to work towards a circular economy in the school. They will follow the ‘waste’ journey and material flow of their chosen area to identify at which stages in its lifecycle it can be improved or exploited, and develop ideas for products/systems that can solve the problem and reduce or eliminate the waste produced.


Students will present ideas to the head teacher and experts they have worked with throughout the project, using data acquired from their visits and scientific investigations as well as models and prototypes developed. They may also create a video showcasing how to make other buildings more sustainable, to be shared with other organisations and their partner primary school.


Students will have the opportunity to become school Eco Ambassadors, pitching a proposal and creating a zero waste School with the help of a panel of local changemakers. This is an optional Learning Unit for schools who want to implement students’ solutions long term within the school. This Learning Unit can last up to 12 months.

Teacher feedback

Aha moments

  • The school tried different methods of learning with the 2 groups of students. For example, when interviewing an expert, one group of students took time to script their questions, and in this group all students took part and were confident asking questions. In the other group, the students did not prepare questions and only 3-4 students took over to ask questions. These two ways can affect inclusivity in learning.
  • In more informal settings, groups of students who did not prepare questions were more likely to ask questions than in a formal setting. This could be because in a formal setting, students feel like they have to behave in a certain way.
  • Experts were important as the children got to see different jobs and people.
  • The learning scenario was more of a way to build student’s leadership skills and personal development (which they called ‘capital culture’) than just learning science’.

Uh oh moments

  • The school ran the learning scenario across different subjects (Science, Drama, Art, and Design and Technology) which meant that some students did not experience the learning units in the order in which they were planned. However, since most of the learning units could be standalone lessons, all students performed well regardless of the order the Learning Units were delivered in (i.e. the learning units do not need to run in a specific order).

General tips

  • Try to get out of the classroom more.
  • Use different teachers from different subjects to run learning scenario:
  • In doing so there is more flexibility and students are not just learning from the science class (ran learning unit in science, design & technology, drama and art classes - performing art classes were actually where children did the most research elements of the learning scenario).
  • They used 6/7 different teachers throughout the learning scenario.
  • It helped the school empower teachers.
  • They mixed new teachers with more experienced teachers in a team to run a Learning Unit so they can learn from one another.
  • Creates a less traditional way of learning about science (puts it in a bigger context).