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Why design a project for plastic free schools?

Plastic is an important and ubiquitous material today’s world: It has multiple functions that help us tackle a number of challenges (e.g. it is lightweight, inert, impermeable, durable) and therefore it is used widely, in applications ranging from packaging our medicine and food, to building materials, cars, airplanes, etc.

However, much of the plastic we produce today is designed to be thrown away after being used only once (dispodable or singe-use). Some of the characteristics that make it commercially successful – price, durability and resistance – also contribute to making it environmentally
unsound (when mismanaged) and difficult to recycle. The way plastic, especially single-use-plastics (SUPs) are currently produced, consumed and disposed results in severe environmental impacts. The millions of tones of plastic that end up in the oceans and the rest of the natural environment every year are one of the most visible and alarming problems, causing a growing public concern.

All around the world, and especially in Europe the urgent need to tackle the plastic pollution, while benefiting from a circular approach is acknowledged. (eg. EC-2018, Directive on Bans of SUPs-2019, etc). Among the other measures identified to tackle this complex problem, education of consumers and the young generation is critical. According to UNESCO, the creation of a more sustainable world requires individuals particularly youth, to become active ‘sustainability change-makers’ who hold the necessary knowledge, skills, values and attitudes (UNESCO, 2017). Indeed, schools can become beacons of sustainability and their students can be the drivers of change for a plastic-free lifestyle.

In this regard, PLASTEAM project is aimed at educating pupils and staff of primary schools in responsibly consuming, using and recycling plastics, informing them about their environmental impact and providing pedagogic activities for promoting a sustainable waste management system at school level.

Outputs

In order to achieve this goal, the Project entails the following activities and outputs:
O1 – Plastic footprint app: this app will gather data on primary schools plastic behavior and investigate the waste disposal and recycling attitudes of primary schools.
O2 – ‘Plastic-free school’ recommendations and contest: these Guidelines addressed to staff and students level will propose sustainable practices, through a top-down as well as a bottom-up approach. Furthermore, the partner and associate schools will take part in a contest to identify the best STEAM solution addressing plastic-free challenges at school level.
O3 – STEAM box and lab: this concerns a set of innovative pedagodic activities that can be easily integrated into the curricula of primary schools. The box will inform pupils about the damages of unsustainable production & consumption, and in particular single use plastics (SUPs) and will develop key STEAM-related skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. The STEAM box will be piloted during the project’s lifetime, in order to enhanse the creativity and innovation in the proposals submitted to the above contest.

Methods

From the methodological point of view, PLASTEAM relies on the whole-school approach which is considered to be particularly effective when it comes to environmental education because it combines formal and non-formal school’s activities in a way to enforce teaching and values with their practice and experience (UNESCO, 2018). In this sense, the STEAM model reveals to be perfectly in line with such a methodology as it is characterized by an integrated approach of different disciplines that contribute to the acquisition of an enquiry-based learning (EBL) and subsequently to a set of key skills such as creative thinking and problem-solving (Martinez, 2017).

PLASTEAM directly addresses primary schools (teachers, students, headmasters, staff etc.), but appeals also other educational grades (AGORA) and institutions (MIO-ECSDE, NEMO Science Museum) in order to promote cross-sectoral cooperation. Implementing whole-school approach requires the development of key relationships and engagements with the local community in order to mutually support and promote sustainable actions. As a result, the project is expected to impact not only on the direct target groups – managers, staff, teachers and students – but also on all other players that gravitate around the school’s environment such as families, local communities, public authorities etc.