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Plastic, Pollution and Hurtwood House

We should be doing better.

A rant and a plea.

I am not a fan of long-winded introductions. Introductions indicate a lack of urgency, and what is needed now is action. Urgently. The question I want to pose to both Muse and Hurtwood House is: why are we continuing to sanction single use plastic? When the rest of the world is doing its best to cut down, we continue to hand out bottled water. We seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to allow students to go shopping in Cranleigh and return laden with single use plastic bags full of bottled water. Schools such as Brighton College have not only banned single use plastic, they have also introduced sanctions if anyone is caught with a plastic bag or bottle. Why are we not doing the same?

Before driving to Cranleigh on Monday, I told the students about to board my bus that they ought to have bags with them. To his credit, one of the students ran off and came back two minutes later with his rucksack. Once in Cranleigh I voiced my concerns a second time. Before they got off, I told the students that if they were going shopping, they should buy a bag for life, which they can then keep at school. It’s very easy to keep an empty shopping bag in the bottom of a school bag for impromptu trips to Cranleigh. I also mentioned the scourge of plastic bottles and bags that have polluted the North Pacific Gyre, killing turtles, tuna, dolphins and other sea life. I made it clear that the water we get from our taps is clean; there is no need to buy bottled water. When I had finished my two-minutes of soap-boxing, they clapped. This took me by surprise. It was clear from their applause that they have the same concerns, they too fear for the future of our planet, but we teachers are showing poor leadership by not helping them to go green. As Greta Thunberg is being touted for a Nobel prize, the Youth 4 Climate march and strike that occurred on the 16th went largely unnoticed.

We need to lead by example, by telling the students that we do not have any bottled water, by pointing them towards the perfectly functional taps we have. There will be a time when such a laissez-faire attitude to pollution (and it is pollution) will be vilified in the same was as racism, bullying, sexism or theft. The quicker this happens, the better.

My parents would not have dreamed of buying bottled water; it would have been considered absurdly profligate, especially in a country that benefits from a constant supply of clean drinking water. Had I asked for a bottle of water when I was a student, I would have been directed towards a tap. These are the attitudes we ought to be instilling, but I believe we are setting a poor example.

Is it not time we led by example and banned single-use plastic bottles and bags? Shouldn’t we be stopping students and staff from returning from Cranleigh laden with single-use plastic? Why is it that schools such as Brighton College have addressed the scourge of plastic, while we have done nothing? Georgham primary in Devon boasts that it is now completely plastic free, but we continue to ensure that demand fuels supply. Should we be ashamed? I think so. Time is running out and we at Hurtwood House are not doing our bit.

Incidentally, I shall be buying some hessian or cotton shopping bags in due course to give to students before they head into Cranleigh. If you want one, come and see me, I shall give it to you at no charge. But please, keep it for life.


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