Lou Walsh is winning the waste war in Maleny

Nov 16, 2018 | Community, Features, School

Lou Walsh is a familiar face at Maleny State School (MSS) where she has been teaching for 26 of her 30 year career. There were excited whispers in the community about a popular new War on Waste program. Writer, Angela Reedman-Polinski, sat down with Lou and the students to hear about the program and how everyone from prep to grade six is getting involved.

by Angela Reedman-Polinski

Always working with the students to strengthen the community and build up her student’s social awareness skills, Lou Walsh is a warm, energetic and kind pillar of the school community.

“This is one of my greatest achievements in 30 years of teaching and I’m so proud of all of the Garden Club for maintaining a huge effort throughout the whole year.”

Two of the key students involved in the project, William McCallum, a Year 4 student and Helen Owens, a Year 6 student and school captain are leading the team to share an understanding of how everyday people can help the environment.

The school’s War on Waste program started in 2017 when William’s class saw waste around the school. “We present a weekly report on parade each week and three times a week we check the levels and maintain the bins around the school.”

They started with checking the composting bins and creating signage for students to recycle and to take the lids off before they put their bottles in the recycling bins.

“Twice a week we walk up to the Maleny IGA and the Maleny Woolworths stores to deliver their soft plastics packaging for recycling.”

School captain, Helen, has noticed that the students found it easy to know where to put the soft plastics.

“They just do the scrunch test and then they know which bin to use.”

MSS signed up with the official Waste 2 Resource School STARS Program and the process began with a three-step plan.

Lou enjoyed observing the students’ excitement grow as they tried out new ideas and learned more about the processes.

“First they conducted an audit on the school’s waste and secondly they provided a recycling bin for every class. The final step was to introduce a soft plastics bin which is 50% of the waste identified in the school.”

Lou ran a lesson with each class in the school to discuss the impacts of recycling and why it is important for the students, staff, families and community to get involved.

“It blows me away that ten-year-old kids can run a whole recycling and composting system throughout an entire school.”

William proudly goes ‘bin-diving’ to rescue discarded soft plastics and checks tuckshop label names to help remind students to make good choices in their recycling.

The Garden Club members empty out the compost into the veggie garden beds and regularly consult with their friendly and helpful groundsman, Mr Sherwell.

“We do all of the planning, work and maintenance ourselves and it feels good to see the results,” said William.

It seems parents have caught the sustainability bug too, learning from the students as they share news on the garden and the program’s successes.

“We hear from a lot of parents that they have a vegetable garden and compost system going now and they are learning more about which vegetables to plant and eat,” shared Lou.

There is also a financial literacy aspect to the program as students, staff and parents have been buying the herbs and vegetables produced by the students each week.

As the vegetable gardens produce income for the students, it gets re-invested back in to more seeds, tools and saplings to keep the project flowing.

The project team was awarded a $900 grant from Maleny Rotary, which they have used to buy more compost bins, mulch, seedlings and gardening tools.

Parents and grandparents have also been donating compost bins to keep the system flourishing. These have been gratefully received by the team.

Next, William wants to canvas Andrew Powell MP to arrange for a Maleny facility for the new Queensland Container Refund Scheme which begins this month.

“We need somewhere close by so people will use it easily and regularly.”

The team also develops short videos, which they share to the entire school each week to share their progress and capture the attention of their peers.

As the team keeps an eye on the future, these videos are being entered into a Sunshine Coast Regional Council competition for environmental media.

This week, Barung Landcare donated a native beehive to the school project for the students to learn first-hand of the importance of bees.

“Barung Landcare has given us such a special gift, the kids from the Garden Club had the native bees all over them and no one was frightened. It was a beautiful sight and great to have our principal there to observe their enthusiasm.  These are the moments the kids will treasure for a long time to come,” Lou smiled.

Lou is so proud of her students and what they are achieving with their drive and enthusiasm for the project.

“It has been a highlight of my career to see children embracing something so important for their future,“ said Lou.

“Our students were instrumental in arranging a second soft plastic recycling point in town at the Maleny IGA, a positive change for the community and an opportunity for these young students to realise that they have a voice!”

William summarises the aim of the project perfectly and how we can all be involved.

“One person can make a difference to a chain reaction. We are a group of kids and a school making a difference, we all need to help recycle and look after our environment!” 



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