The war on waste

With growing concerns about plastic and its impact on the environment, Heather Park looks at how you can make your fundraising more eco-friendly

Schools and their pupils are becoming much more aware of plastic's impact on the planet. Talked-about TV programmes, such as Blue Planet, have made the issue mainstream and have become a valuable teaching resource. Yet plastic waste is still an all-too-familiar sight at school events, thanks to cups, straws, plates, prizes, and more.

So how can you put awareness into action when it comes to fundraising? Here's a rundown of environmentally friendly alternatives available for your school, whether you want to recycle, reduce or reuse.

Invest and reuse

Buying reusable items is better value than single-use food packaging in the long term. Although the washing-up is time consuming, it will mean less 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, source sturdy or glass-free items to avoid breakages.

Compostable cutlery

Paper plates may be seen as a good alternative to plastic ones, but they're not recyclable once used, as the food and grease bonds with the paper fibres and cannot be separated during recycling. 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.

BYO discount

Ask people to bring their own cups to events, offering them a better deal if they do. Give a discount, or impose a penalty (say 25p) for customers without their own cup. That way, people will be more likely to take part. This is a system similar to those used by many coffee shops, and it avoids washing-up afterwards.

Plastic-free tombola

Sending plastic cups home for families to fill with 'stock' for the tombola is great for making money. However, you can easily substitute the plastic for a biodegradable alternative, such as brown paper bags or donated jam jars.

Eco-friendly glitter

Bioglitter ( is an eco-friendly alternative to plastic-based glitter. Made from plant-derived materials, it's the only glitter on the market that is proven to biodegrade into harmless substances in the environment.

Tackle your tuck shop

Most 'tuck' comes 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 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.

Eco-friendly prizes

The aim for a good fair stall prize is to avoid plastic as much as possible, or ensure the item is good quality so that it will be reused and won't break within hours. Possibilities include:

  • Packets of seeds – try peas, sweet peas or beetroot, which all have flexible sowing times and are easy to handle.
  • Seedlings – ask any green-fingered parents to cultivate seedlings. This is inexpensive, exciting, and educational too.
  • Books – ask for donations at a mufti day, or scour charity shops.
  • Art supplies – offer crayons, colouring pencils and chalk.
  • Stationery – make packs with notebooks, pencils and rubbers
  • Games – try card games, wooden yo-yos and skipping ropes.
  • Traditional toys – source wooden beads, cat's cradle, French knitting dolly, marbles and teddies.
  • Raisins – this is a healthy choice, in recyclable packaging too!
  • Homemade seed bombs – the Land Trust, wildlife trusts and the RHS all have recipes.
  • 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, otherwise people will be constantly running between stalls and never winning an actual prize.
  • Token stall – players win tokens on individual stalls that they can then take to a prize stall to exchange for a prize. The size of the prize is based on the number of tokens won. This means all stalls can be 'prize every time', encouraging people to stay at the fair for longer.

Second-hand sale

One man's trash is another man's treasure! Organise the sale for a Saturday. Ask for donations to be brought to school in bags on the Friday afternoon, and allocate a sub-committee to sort the items into:

  • books, toys and games
  • bric-a-brac
  • men's clothing
  • ladies' clothing
  • children's clothing.

You may wish to put prices on goods, or to give buyers some discretion, with rough pricing or recommended donations in place.

Recycling schemes

Popular recycling schemes range from ink cartridges and textiles to DVDs and gadgets. Once you have registered with your chosen scheme, set up a collection point and advertise it 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.


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 for each item they bring, to be checked off at the end of the event. All items should be freshly laundered, ironed and in good repair. Charge an admission fee to raise funds, and invite external stallholders (selling gifts, beauty products or accessories) to attend, charging them a fixed fee of £10-£25.

Virtual balloon race

Balloon races may be a popular fundraiser, but balloons can 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, set up a virtual balloon race with Ecoracing. The website uses real weather data and geographical positions to simulate what flight path your virtual balloon takes.

Eco in action

'We have made multiple steps to become more eco-friendly at our schools. 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. 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 are then sent to landfill. 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)

Next steps...

You don't have to implement all of this immediately – small steps can be hugely effective over time. For further advice and information, visit WWF ( and Earth Day Network (


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