Plastic. A thorny issue that has become a huge problem now that China refuses to hide the world’s dirty little secret any longer. As the stockpiles grow taller, a small Canterbury school of just 160 pupils has come up with a beautiful way to reuse some of those pesky plastic soft drink bottles that just won’t go away.
April Fitzjohn runs the Weedons School’s Enviroclub, who have built a bottle-house from discarded plastic soft drink bottles. The result is perfect for using as a greenhouse to grow vegetables.
The design has a cement floor and timber framework. Plastic bottles have their bases removed, and are threaded onto bamboo canes, each one slotting into the next. The canes are then fitted into the framework to form walls.
“We learned a lot while we were doing it,” says April. “We had to make sure they matched up like for like so they would slot together properly. It was quite labour intensive.”
Timber was donated, and Aaron Webb of Aaron Webb Builders Ltd did the building for them for free.
“We did some fund raising; enviro mufti days, sold eggs from our chickens and veggies from our garden when we could.”
The original design also had a bottle roof, but it was decided that a solid roof would be the best option at the time.
“When I arrived in the holidays and saw it finished it was really exciting,” says April. “Aaron is a wonderful builder with a great eye for detail.”
The bottle-house is bursting with tomatoes so the concept clearly works very well.
ENVIRO-CLUB HELPS OUT WITH ECO PROJECTS
The Enviro-club involves pupils giving up their Friday lunchtimes to help with various eco-projects around the school.
“They don’t have to come every week,” says April, “they just get a badge when they’ve been ten times. Some years I’ve had up to 50 names on the list.”
All classrooms have two waste boxes, one for compost and one for the four worm farms they have on site. Monitors collect them at the end of lunch each day.
“On Fridays the children can order in lunches, then we collect all the juice bottles, fill them with worm wee and sell them for a donation.”
There is a veggie garden maintained by the Enviro-club, with seedlings donated by parents from their own gardens. A brightly painted 1000 litre container sourced by Wastebusters from Barkers in Geraldine catches water from the roof for irrigation.
“Last week this bed was full of potatoes. We had a big digging up session and everybody took potatoes home.”
FRUIT TREES IN SCHOOLS
A ‘Fruit Trees in Schools’ initiative was developed by Alan Peacock of Independent Signs Ltd in Rolleston and with the help of Lincoln Envirotown and many sponsors, offers all primary schools in Selwyn ten fruit trees every year for five years. Weedons School have been involved and this year will be their fifth and final year of planting, giving the school a total of 50 fruit trees.
“We’ve got citrus trees around the pool,” April points them out, “an orchard of apples, pears, peaches, quince and nashi and this year we have ordered black and green grapes, blueberries and figs. We did have some nut trees, but we have a little boy with a serious nut allergy, so sadly they had to go.
“The Friends of Weedons paid for us to have an irrigation system so all the trees are drip-fed. The company that set it up come and link in any new trees for us free of charge, which is really nice of them.”
A little further on, April introduces me to their ‘bug mansion’ – a pile of pallets stuffed with straw and sticks, surrounded by rocks, flax and a cabbage tree.
“If kids find bugs,” she says, “after they’ve had a look at them, then they’ll bring them here.”
April has been researching eco-bricks. She shows me a large soft-drink bottle packed very tightly with soft plastic which can be used as a substitute for hollow blocks in building.
“Plastic is being stockpiled right now. Eventually New Zealand may have its own plastic recycling plant, but in the meantime we have to do something while we wait for that to happen."
“I’ve got 30 of these bricks at home, and some of the kids have brought some in too. I would love to make a raised planter bed out of them, but I haven’t worked out how I’m going to attach them together yet. There is a place for all this plastic, we just have to be creative.”
April shows me some threaded and woven artwork hanging in a tree made from various waste plastic items. It’s been there for two years, with little sign of degradation at all. A great reminder of how plastic will never disappear.
So what is on April’s wish list for the future?
“Generating our own solar power. We have applied to SchoolGen and will hear back this month if we’ve been successful and as part of the School Strike for Climate on March 15th, senior students wrote to local iZone businesses asking for their support in purchasing solar panels for the school.
“We’re also going to try and get a wind turbine. If we could afford it that would be amazing.”
The following local businesses have provided financial support to the Fruit Trees in Schools scheme:
A Electrical Ltd
Hawkins Construction Ltd
Independent Signs Ltd
One Agency Selwyn Real Estate
Thai Terrace Restaurant
The Outdoor Space Ltd