Teacher Louise Cameron and her Prep-Year 2 students have been focusing on all things green this term, including the harmful effects of plastic bags on the environment.
Australians use 3.92 billion plastic bags each year – almost 10 million each day – and many of these enter the litter stream and cause havoc to the natural environment.
At Blackhall Range, a Prep-Year 12 school nestled in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, the students are particularly concerned with the effect plastic bags can have on animals.
“They’re big time nature and wildlife carers,” Cameron says. “So it’s about them wanting to make sure that the animals and wildlife are here in the future and part of our world forever.”
Instead of using bags once and then sending them to landfill, students tried using them to collect water, and even making their own plastic bag clothing.
But Cameron and her class are also keeping a clear eye on the future.
Australia’s two supermarket giants, Coles and Woolworths have recently announced they would stop providing regular plastic bags within 12 months; and the students are looking for sustainable alternatives to plastic bags in interesting places.
The class cast a wide net for ideas, taking inspiration from Indigenous cultures – including Maori and Aboriginal Australian carrying solutions – to create bags from plant-based materials, as well as experimenting with environmentally-friendly plastics made from common household items.
“We used milk and vinegar to make the plastics, and depending on how much vinegar we put with it we sort of had a different texture to the plastic we made…
“They’re going to watch over the next few weeks if that product starts to break down,” Cameron says.
They also learned how to create their own paper, using the finished product to design and make paper shopping bags.
And in coming weeks they will try their hands at creating alternative bags using recycled materials.
“I’m asking in the newsletter today … if people can find an old piece of clothing that they think we could … make a bag out of,” Cameron says.
She says the children loved getting their hands dirty during the experiments, but also came away with a sense that they were doing something important by making people more aware of the problem.
“They’re making posters to go around the school at the moment … telling people how bad plastic bags are for the environment,” Cameron says.
And the students take comfort from the fact that they’re not alone.
“It’s not just us, she says, “lots of people are becoming aware of how bad the environment suffers from our use of plastic.
“So yeah, they’re really excited and keen to get that message out.”