The past few years have seen a significant change in our approach, and attitude towards, climate change. With new government guidelines aiming to combat the effect we're having on the planet and large companies putting pledges in place to reduce their environmental impact, the world is slowly becoming greener. But how can your PTA do its bit to reduce impact on the planet when running events?
One of the biggest issues is, of course, plastic. Disposable plastic is an all-too-familiar sight at PTA events, thanks to cups, straws, plates, prizes and more, but there are plenty of environmentally friendly alternatives. Whether you choose to recycle, reduce or reuse, there's an option to suit your school.
Invest and reuse
Buying one-use food packaging is expensive when compared to reusable items in the long term. Although the washing-up may not seem ideal, it does mean there'll be a reduction in litter at events. Consider investing in crockery and cutlery, seeking donations from local businesses, or holding a crockery amnesty. Ask pupils to each bring a mug to school one day, possibly in exchange for wearing non-school uniform. When buying reusable glasses, try to source sturdy items such as those supplied by Glass Free to avoid any dangerous breakages.
Compostable cutlery If you're not keen on the idea of all that washing up, how about disposable alternatives? Paper plates may be seen as a good alternative to plastic serving vessels, but they're not recyclable once used, as the food and grease bonds with the paper fibres and cannot be separate during the recycling process. Companies such as Vegware offer completely compostable catering disposables made from renewable or recycled materials. Vegware stocks everything from hot or cold drinks cups to takeaway food packaging, and these products can be recycled along with food waste.
Another option is to ask people to bring their own cups, offering them a better deal if they do. Rather than giving a discount if they do bring their own, though, offer a penalty if they don't – e.g. 25p more for someone without their own cup than someone with one. This way, people will be more likely to take part. This is a system customers are getting used to in coffee shops anyway, so it shouldn't be unfamiliar to them – and it also avoids lots of washing-up afterwards for your PTA!
Sending plastic cups home for families to fill and return as stock for the tombola is great for making money for nothing, but you can easily substitute the plastic for a greener container to make it great for the planet too. Think of biodegradable alternatives, or hold a jam jar amnesty as glass can be easily recycled (and donations will keep costs even lower).
We know PTAs love glitter, but it can be so damaging to wildlife and the environment. Bioglitter is an eco-friendly alternative to plastic-based glitter and is made from plant-derived materials. It's the only glitter on the market that is proven to biodegrade into harmless substances in the environment. Visit discoverbioglitter.com for a list of suppliers that sell Bioglitter products.
Tackle your tuck shop
When selling tuck shop items, you'll find most things come in plastic packaging. One option is to buy sweets in bulk and run a pick 'n' mix stand or make up your own paper bags of sweets, but bear in mind that this does mean the nutritional values and allergy advice won't be present on each item. Alternatively, research packaging that's recyclable and provide a point where people can dispose of the packaging.
It's one thing to aim for recyclable products when running an event, but another entirely to make sure people recycle them! Offer recycling bins at fairs with clear signage. Work with the school to see how they're encouraging recycling and raising awareness. Make it fun and unmissable by creating bins with bright colours or funny faces.
Another way to lower the impact of your event is to buy local. This can be everything from making sure fruit for your tuck shop is from the UK to buying meat from your local butcher and bread from your local baker. This keeps air miles low, as well as helping your PTA to build relationships with local companies.
You don't have to implement all of this immediately – small steps will help your PTA become more eco-friendly. Websites such as WWF and Earth Day Network offer advice and information on living green.
'We have made multiple steps to become more eco-friendly. We offer a 20p discount on hot drinks for visitors who bring their own reusable cups and we encourage recycling of cans and plastic bottles by having recycling bins at our events. We take any leftover food from events to the local homeless shelter. We try to sell online via PTA Events to avoid so many envelopes of cash – although we always recycle these! At our discos, we've started selling battery-operated glow items that can be switched off and used again, rather than the 'snap' glow sticks that last the night and then are sent to landfill. We are looking at whether it is viable to use eco-friendly glitter for glitter tattoos. As with everything, it's slow progress, but with each event we hope more parents will embrace our changes.'
Vicki White, chair, Kempshott Schools Association, Kempshott Infant and Kempshott Junior Schools, Kempshott, Hampshire (654 pupils)
'Our first big push to become more eco-friendly was at our 2018 May Fair, where we served food in biodegradable sugar cane containers. Although they cost around 10p each, we felt people would be happy to pay a bit extra for food and drink. On games stalls, children collected stamps to exchange for bigger, higher value prizes rather than lots of small single-use plastic items. We've also made a big effort to provide recycling bins at events, and at our Christmas Fair we've cut out pre-wrapping of gifts and we hide lucky dip prizes in paper gift bags. Our efforts have been praised by The Howard Partnership Trust, who have shared these with other partner schools as examples of good practice. Our next steps will be to look at reducing water, travel and energy use.'
Emily von Reibnitz, teaching assistant, EastwickSchool, Great Bookham, Surrey (650 pupils)
It's easy to buy small cheap plastic items, but these will no doubt break or be forgotten about after the event. The aim for a good stall prize is to avoid plastic altogether where possible, or ensure the item is good quality so that it will be reused and won't break within hours. Here are some more environmentally friendly prize ideas that are less likely to end up in landfill:
- Packets of seeds – try peas, sweet peas or beetroot, which all have flexible sowing times and are easy to handle.
- Seedlings – if you have a green-fingered parent ask them to cultivate some seedlings. This is inexpensive, exciting for the children, and educational too.
- Books – ask for donations at a mufti day or scour charity shops – some offer children's books for50p or less.
- Art supplies – crayons, colouring pencils and pavement chalk.
- Stationery – make packs with notebooks, pencils and rubbers.
- Games – card games, wooden yo-yos, skipping ropes.
- Traditional toys – wooden beads, cat's cradle, French knitting dolly, marbles, die-cast toy cars, felt finger puppets, teddies.
- Raisins – a healthy choice in recyclable packaging.
- Homemade seed bombs – The Land Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and RHS all have recipes, and they can be made colourful with natural food colouring.
- Vouchers for other stalls – if the vouchers are for games stalls then this will cost you nothing as a prize. Just make sure you don't offer too many of them, as otherwise people will be constantly running between stalls and never winning an actual prize!
- Token stall – with a token system you can go for quality over quantity. Rather than winning prizes, children win tokens that they can then take to a prize stall, where they can exchange them for a larger prize based on the number of tokens they have. This means all of your stalls can be 'prize every time' without it being costly. This system is sure to encourage people to stay at the fair for longer, and will lead to busier stalls as children try to win enough tokens for their favourite prize!
Second-hand sale: One man's trash is another man's treasure! Organise the sale for a Saturday and give parents plenty of time to sort through their lofts, wardrobes and cupboards. Ask for donations to be brought to school in bags on the Friday afternoon, and allocate a sub-committee to sort the items, separating them into:
- Books, toys and games
- Men's clothing
- Ladies' clothing
- Children's clothing
You may wish to put prices on goods, or you may want to give the buyers some discretion with rough pricing/recommended donations in place, e.g. books 20p, kids' T-shirts £1. Allow space for your second-hand uniform stall.
Upcycle craft evening: Collect unwanted goods from parents and local businesses, including fabric off-cuts. See what you can source and then build activities around it. If you have any crafty parents, rope them in to help. Nature is brilliant for this, too – there's a lot you can do with a pinecone! Look at Pinterest for inspiration. Alternatively, invite attendees to bring their own items to upcycle, providing a range of decorative equipment with which they can transform their goods.
Printed products: When selling printed products (visit our supplier directory for recommended companies), go for items that will indirectly reduce waste in your school. Printed products such as reusable tote bags or water bottles will mean less use of plastic bags and bottles throughout your school.
Recycling schemes: Popular PTA recycling schemes range from ink cartridges and textiles to DVDs and gadgets, so simply choose the one that's right for your school. Once your PTA has registered with your chosen scheme, set up a collection point and advertise in advance so parents can start sorting and saving their unwanted goods. Extend this to the local community with boxes in the library and doctor's surgery. Visit our supplier directory for recommended suppliers.
Swishing: Give clothes a second chance at life and prevent them going to landfill with a clothes-swapping evening. The simplest swish is conducted on a 'one for one' basis. A voucher is issued to each guest with their number of items written on it, to be checked off at the end of the event. All items should be freshly laundered, ironed and in good repair. Charge a 'per person' admission fee to raise funds, and invite external stallholders to attend, selling beauty products, gifts or accessories. Charge them a fixed fee of £10-£25.
Used book swap: Similar to a swish but on a smaller scale. Ask people to bring in their old books to swap with others, making money through an admission fee and refreshments. Sort the books into age groups and get children and adults involved.
Virtual balloon race: Balloon races are a popular fundraiser for PTAs, but not for the environment. Balloons can scatter miles apart and litter a wide area of land, causing damage to animals and wildlife. Even 'biodegradable' balloons take years to decompose, meaning one spectacular moment has a huge impact. Instead, consider setting up a virtual balloon race with Ecoracing as a fun alternative. The website uses real website data and geographical positions to simulate as close as possible to reality what flight path your virtual balloon takes. Balloon sponsors can even decorate and alter their balloon as many times as they like prior to launch.
Furoshiki workshop: An environmentally-friendly alternative to wrapping paper, Furoshiki is the Japanese art of wrapping gifts in squares of reusable decorative fabric. Get your community in the Christmas spirit by hosting an online or in-person workshop where attendees learn how to wrap gifts using furoshiki techniques. Complete the festive experience by selling mince pies and mulled wine.
More eco-friendly ideas: