The school fete is always a highly anticipated feature of the school year – albeit one usually anticipated with mixed feelings by the adults responsible for running it. Although generally great fundraising events and community builders, fetes also generate an immense amount of waste from paper plates and plastic forks to unsold items at the trash and treasure stall. In the light of growing environmental concern, a number of schools are looking for ways to make to host a less wasteful and more sustainable fete.
Katy Daily, a parent from Coburg North Primary School, says that it’s often parents who are driving the sustainability push.
“A couple of years ago, we started a guerrilla sustainability group,” Katy says. Her underground group spearheaded swapping the school’s lights to LEDs and installing a new solar system on the roof before winning enough interest from the school council to establish a formal sustainable building and grounds committee.
Last year, the committee turned their attention to greening up the fete.
“The biggest thing we did this year was we minimised the number of rubbish bins to two or three stations and we staffed them,” Katy says. “Each station was divided into three streams – recycling, rubbish and compostables. We had someone monitoring the whole time. That was a big job, but it really, really minimised the amount of waste we had.”
At Westgarth Primary School, parent and fete coordinator Emma Savage has spent the past five years working to reduce the amount of waste their annual event produces. This waste-reduction drive began when she resurrected the kids clothing stall and found a service that would pay a small amount to take away the leftovers to recycle.
“That meant instead of putting them out in the pile for landfill collection, we actually made a small amount of money.”
That initiative led to her seeking out other op shops and charities who might be grateful for any other unsold items, such as books and toys. But Emma says it was axing the trash ’n’ treasure stall – a favourite fete stalwart – that had the greatest impact on waste.
“We used to create a pile for the landfill service provider to come and collect afterwards and it was something like 12 square metres.”
“The fete’s success was a good demonstration that people care and that the kids respond.”
Katy Daily, Coburg North Primary School parent
Food is another area ripe for waste reduction. Katy says Coburg North made a conscious choice to seek out vendors who had sustainable products and tried to limit single-use packaging. A free water station discouraged the buying of bottled drinks.
Emma says changing the way that food is served – offering a range of smaller snacks that can be eaten in one hand while carrying a toddler with another, for example – also helps cut back on packaging. When the snow cones truck turned up this year, she handed back the plastic cones and instead ensured the frozen treats were served in reusable polycarbonate. But the most effective initiative, waste-wise, has been hiring a portable Wash Against Waste trailer.
“The trailer comes with all the cutlery and dishes and things that you can use and then wash up and return them,” Emma says.
While Westgarth had experimented with a wash station before to save on disposable plates and cutlery, it had previously been hidden away in the kitchens, meaning volunteers were cut off from the action and unable to keep an eye on their kids. Parking the trailer near the stage makes it easier to find volunteers.
“It became a really central activity that everyone enjoyed because they were doing it together and they weren’t locked away from the excitement.”
Both Emma and Katy admit that the extra workload required for sustainable practice, whether it’s washing dishes or guarding the bins, can feel like an ask too far for an overworked school community – particularly at a school such as Coburg North, where almost 90% of households have both parents in full-time employment. But the success of these measures, and sustainable fetes more broadly, can help school councils look more favourably on greening other aspects of the school.
“I think the success of the sustainable fete has meant there’s a lot of wind behind our sails in terms of becoming a resource-smart school,” Katy says. “This was a good demonstration that people care and that the kids respond.”