Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Recycling an entire house....

Here at Wastebusters we see the problems that are associated with building and demolition waste. According to some figures I've read, this could take up possibly 50% of landfills. Many people say that it's just too hard and way too costly to de-construct a house and separate the waste into streams.

When I was in the UK this Christmas I noticed that they are putting a lot of effort into sorting their building site waste. From what I could tell their landfills are filling up pretty quick and councils have chosen this way to reduce what goes in.

So when I read an article on TreeHugger this morning about a ladies mission to recycle and entire house I was hooked. There is a fantastic video on YouTube showing how she does it. This is very reassuring that we can indeed deal with demolition in sensible and responsible way. The flip side is that this lady claims she has even saved some money.....

Friday, February 12, 2010

Global warming and snow storms....

When I was in  the UK this Christmas and smack in the middle of the fantastic snowy weather there was a fair amount of conversation about how a snow storm was disproving 'Global Warming'. The main thing that struck me about this conversation, was the complete lack of understanding of the issue. I thought we had somehow managed to move away from Global Warming and into Climate Change. Freak snow storms are very much an indicator that the climate is changing, but so many people misunderstand the issues and think that snow must mean we aren't warming at all.

Today I came across this video from MSNBC in the states discussing this whole issue. It's simple, clear and effective. If you know any sceptics out there, point them in the direction of this....

Eco Hut at Makarora

This week is all about going to the outer edges of my district. Fully inspired and motivated by Glenorchy I now find myself heading off to Makarora to spend some time with those guys working on their Eco-Hut.

We had a couple of sessions last year, as regular readers will remember. We came up with some pretty cool ideas and also built some models to see how different shape structures determine their strength. During this process Ti came up with a fantastic idea of building a hut around the concrete pipe buried in the pile of earth around the back of the school.

As we all spoke about this hut idea, it seemed like the perfect solution to this design would be to find an old water tank to form most of the structure of the hut. Low and behold, the day I got back from Makarora, what had turned up in our yard at Wastebusters? Yip, two water tanks. With one of them now delivered to Makarora school the time has come to really shift up a gear.

We started the day with a good old reflection on what had been done last year. Once up to speed it was time to go and survey the tank and the proposed area.

We soon found out how big the tank was. Drawings were made and measurements were indicated.

As we were looking at the site we soon realised that if we were to get a really good idea about what the hut would look like it needed clearing. With all hands on deck this didn't take long at all. We were mostly clearing a few years worth of fallen leaves. Gorgeous material for the compost heap. And well done everyone for remembering about the brown and green layers we need to put in the compost for it to work well.

With the ground clear we could peg out some string to show the width of the tunnel through the earth and also how wide the water tank would be if it was placed at the end of the tunnel furthest away from the school.

Back inside the classroom we all worked on a list of actions that needed to be done. The first is to enlist some help from Gwilym. A local guy who has worked on designing a fair few sustainable structures and all round industrial design guru.

As we speak questions are being typed, photographs gathered and a package created to send to him. We want to know about strength of the structure, what we could do to make a good escape hatch, what could we support it with, how successful would it be to lay turf on top......
Great work everyone, this is going to be an amazing place to hang out.

Water at Glenorchy

Glenorchy Primary was the destination for my first school visit of the year. I always love going up there, such an amazing drive and I always have a wonderful time when I get there, although for some reason I seem to put my forgetful head on as soon as I arrive. I've left a notebook there, but this time I left a whole crate full of resources....ooooops.

Anyway....lets focus on the good stuff. This term the senior room, who now have a new teacher, Mrs. Hamilton, are inquiring into water. So what better way to start off than the Zero Waste Education Water unit. The senior room is a mix of year groups and everyone did so well getting through this unit intended for years 7 & 8.

Since Glenorchy are a Silver Enviroschool I decided to use a few of the ES water activities. We started the day off with making water bracelets and went into the how much is fresh activity.

The day went really well, lots and lots of experiments. We saw how water evaporated from a puddle on the playground, made our own water cycle model, saw the effects vegetation has upon storm water run off, learnt how to change a washer on a tap and finally the river story.

An absolutely fantastic day, I'm really looking forward to hearing what the senior room at Glenorchy will be finding out about water in the next few weeks. In the mean time, I get to spend a Saturday exploring the local hills now I've got to go back and pick my stuff up.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Queenstown Primary Enviroschools 2009 Open Day

At the end of last term Queenstown Primary held a fabulous open day to showcase the work the whole school has done over the last year as part of their commitment to becoming an Enviroschool. Now it's just occurred to me that I've given two talks about the day but neglected to write a blog posting about it.

So, shall we cast our minds back to mid December 2009? It was a super hot day, gorgeous blue skies and Queenstown Primary was buzzing over the fact that our Mayor, Clive Geddes, was about to turn up to learn about what QPS has done about becoming more sustainable.

So many things really impressed me during this visit, I shall try my best not to go overboard on the descriptions, hopefully the pictures will tell a thousand words. The Kapa Haka group performing to the whole school was the first really impressive thing I saw. You guys were awesome!


The tour I was on started with the Middle syndicate. Yes, you heard that right, a tour, we had guides from the one of the senior classes and they certainly knew their stuff. I know these middle syndicate classrooms pretty well now. I've done lots and lots of work with them this year, particularly concerned with worms and worm farms. The middle classes have been looking at their organic waste, monitoring it, designing systems to cope with the volume and type of organic waste they have to deal with each day.

During the investigations it was soon realised that whilst worms are pretty good, they are indeed a little fickle. Thankfully a few teachers in school have chickens at home, so a very simple two bin system has been set up. One bin goes home to the chickens and the other is processed for the worms in school.

One of the interesting facts we learnt about worms was that they do not have teeth. Therefore it is very helpful to them is the food they are fed is mushed up. Enter the mincer. Rather cleverly mounted on a large sheet of wood the mincer takes all the worm food and minces it up into a very tasty pulp for them to enjoy. You can see from this pic that it's a great fun job to do at lunch time.
We have one of the QLDC sponsored worm farms on site in the middle playground. But are these students happy with a regular square box for their worms to live in? Of course not......

The Enviroschools kit has so many tools to help our students design solutions for a sustainable outcome. I've done a little work with the middle syndicate using these tools. The design and project planners from the action section of the new kit are just brilliant. In no time at all the students have started asking themselves questions about what they need to know in order to make good choices about the design they want. As you can see they've looked into a few different types.

One of the most ingenious designs they've constructed is the worm tube. We saw a YouTube video about it ages ago and some of the students have adapted it to fit their needs at QPS. Essentially you take a length of old drainage pipe, drill a few holes in the bottom, bury it in your garden to cover the holes. Put in some worms and then some food. The worms eat the food in the pipe, then burrow their way into the garden to lay their vermicast within the soil and roots of the plants growing above. Ingenious. These students have invented a way, using an old ice cream lid, to put in a tray to allow the worms to sit above the garden when it is time to move the tube.

The other middle syndicate classes have been looking at beautifying their school. One project has been to create a mural for the wall outside one of their classrooms. They have looked into the story of Lake Wakatipu and between them, created a mural made of various panels designed by different students to illustrate the story. There was a fairly large unveiling of this panel a few weeks previous to the open day, where the kapa haka group did a fantastic performance and the students involved in the creation of the mural explained what it all meant to each of them. All of this was on show inside one of the classrooms.

One of the senior syndicates has looked at water, where it comes from, how we consume it, how we can conserve it and also how it is seen and dealt with in other parts of the world. One of their classrooms was decked out with heaps of information that they'd found out. There were various experiments going on demonstrating what normal everyday household chemicals could do to our water supply.


There was also heaps of information available about the visit we paid to Mt Grand, the water purification plant in Dunedin, on last years Otago Regional Enviroschools Hui.

We then moved onto the junior syndicate. Boy oh boy, have these guys been busy. They have fully embraced the concept of 'Zero Waste'. They started off with a waste audit to get information about the types of waste they generated. Now that they knew what they had, they caould do something about it.

It was generally food packaging that was the problem. Which foods did it come with and could they still get the same food but without the packaging? Well it seems like you can.

After some rather mammoth counting exercises these students identified how many large packets of chips they needed to buy each week so they could put them in reusable containers to bring to school each day. Still having the same amount of chips as you get in a small packet, but without the waste.

Can you make muesli bars at home and bring them in in baking paper? Of course you can. They took a visit to the recycling station out at Frankton, where the students just loved seeing what happened to their recycling once it left school. It's so good to be able to see where it goes and confirm that making sure everything is nice and clean does make a difference.

 I even heard Mrs Walker asking Mr Weston if it would be possible to remove their rubbish bins from the junior playground as they didn't use them any more. Isn't that amazing? Well done everyone!

As we moved through the junior department we found some paper making going on. It's one thing sending your paper to be recycled, but a whole other, way more fun thing to make some paper yourself at school. You can make some pretty cool cards from the paper you made too.
Finally we found some students from a senior syndicate who had been looking that their school and coming up with some inventive ways of changing it. where could they put playgrounds? Where  would be good for a vege garden? What is reasonable to change and what should we leave? One of the best ways to get your idea across is by using a well constructed model. The ones we saw were amazing, apparently though I'm too big for the zip slide.

So there we have it, QPS's Enviroschools work for 2009 in a nutshell. I'd just like to thank all the students, teachers and other staff there for making working with them so much fun last year. In particular though I'd like t ogive some special thanks to Mrs Walker and Mrs Gray, who have done some outstanding work at school to make all of this happen. Well done everyone!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Edible Gardening at Todmorden High School, in the UK

This summer I was lucky enough to make the long journey home to the UK to see my family. Whilst there I thought I would do what I could to see how the other side of the world approached Education for Sustainability in schools.
During my online investigations I came across a project in West Yorkshire called Incredible Edible in Todmorden (http://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk). They’ve had lots of publicity recently about the fabulous work they’ve been doing to introduce growing food into their towns everyday lives.

Todmorden is nestled in the Penines in West Yorkshire and has a population of around 15,000. The town originally grew during the industrial revolution. You can read more about the history of Todmorden at Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Todmorden
One snowy and icy Friday morning I met with Estelle at the high school to begin my tour of what Todmorden is currently up to. 

If you click on any of the photos they will open up much bigger and you will be able to see the details, useful to know when looking at the menus below.

Todmorden high school has a canteen for the students to buy their lunch from and their head chef and canteen manager Tony is a truly inspirational man. When he started work at the school he noticed that there was a green house on the grounds and wondered how it could be utilised to best serve his kitchen. This was about the time when the community of Todmorden were coming together to start the yet to be named Incredible Edible project. 

After Tony placed and advert in the local paper asking for help with the greenhouse things just started to bloom. It didn’t take long before raised beds and a poly tunnel were installed. One of the most impressive things I kept hearing was how all of this has been completed on a tight budget. They have received funds from people such as the National Lottery, Food for Life & the Soil Association. What has really made this happen though is the work from Tony and the staff at school and the members of their community who all share the vision of a healthy school having good food available to all students at a price that they can afford.

As the growing increased so did the integration with the curriculum. The food technology class was now able to study how the food was grown as well as how to prepare it. They are now of the of the leading schools in the country offering a land based diploma option to their students. 

Tony was the first to admit that when this started he knew very little about growing and each year he learns more lessons and refines the way they do things. One of the first issues he came across was his bumper crop of beetroot. I’m sure you’ll agree his idea of pulping them to replace much of the sugar in the chocolate muffins is genius.

The menu is designed with help of the students. Members of SNAG (School Nutrition Action Group) are very involved with what is grown and made for their school lunches. Before anything is added to the menu it has to undergo a rigorous taste test by members of SNAG. For instance, blind tastings of sausages from various sources have seen the free roaming pig version come out on top. Not only the healthy option but also the tastiest, and it’s coming at an affordable price.

They have formed relationships with many other local growers and supermarkets. The local Morrisons supermarket offers shoppers reward vouchers that can be given to the school to redeem towards new gardening tools. The local cheese producer supplies them with cheese that is nearing its sell by date, the school has a high turn around so can use it all well within the safe eating dates.

The school canteen produces about 500 meals per day, 300 of them are sold to their students and the rest are taken to nearby primary schools. The aim is to keep the cost low and nutrition high. A three course meal will set you back £1.70 (approx. $3.90). The meat that is used is either free range or free roaming and the eggs all come from local free range hens, some of their own and others from around town.

On the wall of the canteen you can see the menu, alongside details about where the ingredients have come from. You can see the father of the pork that you are eating, the chickens that may be served up or laid the eggs you just had. This has been an absolute hit with the students. One of the things that was so noticeable about the students at Todmorden High School was that they all looked so healthy and well nourished.

To help give even more ownership a local graffiti artist has worked with students to design and create murals promoting the food projects in schools. It’s an old school that is being transformed by the desire to improve the quality of food eaten by the pupils.
So where next? They are currently awaiting hearing about news for a National Lottery grant to install an aquaponics system in school to increase their growing potential even further. If you haven’t heard about aquaponics it’s basically a system that uses water to grow vegetables as well as fish. The water cycles around and is filtered through the plants and fish. Each part of the process is complimentary to the other, maximising the nutritional benefits of each and using the least amount of water to produce the most food possible. Obviously this is a very basic description and I’m no expert, so you can find out more about this type of system at good old Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquaponics
I met with the school’s head teacher, Patrick Ottley-O'Connor, and he is very keen to form some international links to schools on this side of the world and is willing to offer some advice and reassurance to other schools wishing to undertake projects like this. He is overwhelmed with the way the project has progressed and admits at times it felt risky, especially since no other school in the country was doing the same, but now hopes that they will act as an inspirational bench mark to other schools.

Todmorden High School is one of the most inspirational visits I’ve ever had. To see the combination of school and community was amazing. It was total integration into their curriculum and utilisation of their local resources without spending thousands and thousands of dollars to get there. OK, their new aquaponics system will require a fairly large fund to get it going but that will be raised on the back of the work they have done for very little money. Fingers crossed the National Lottery board have been as impressed with Todmorden High School as I have and the money is granted to them.

I’m so grateful to everyone I met in Todmorden for sparing the time to show me round and inspire me no end by the work that has been and is being done. I’m once again full of hope for the future seeing this in action. This is only the story of the High School, keep your eyes posted on here for details about what is happening in the rest of town and some ideas we may be able to implement here to increase the local growing in our town so we can all eat better healthier food without the high cost and dependency upon oil to get it to us.