Sustainable from the start


24 April 2020

Students in South Australia’s Wipe Out Waste (WOW) Schools program are looking deeply into their daily waste habits.

The WOW program has conducted around 700 bin materials audits in schools since it was introduced in 2006. WOW was developed by state government body Green Industries SA and is run by not-for-profit organisation, Kesab Environmental Solutions.

It aims to significantly reduce the amount of material headed to landfill in favour of composting, recycling or reusing.

WOW education officer Jo Hendrikx says the program encourages a “whole of school community” approach to finding waste solutions and the bin audits are one of its most popular initiatives.

“The school collects the indoor and outdoor bin material from the previous day. Then, with the older students, we sort it into 15 categories to get the weight and volume,” says Hendrikx.

The waste is laid out for display to the community, to encourage a collective way of finding waste solutions.

“It’s a great way of benchmarking what is going into bins at the site and prioritising ways to reduce materials going to landfill. We provide education support and tools for all sites across the state, from preschools through to secondary schools.”


Kesab also runs professional development sessions for teachers, aimed at integrating waste management and resource learning into the school curriculum. This includes field trips to resource recovery sites, transfer stations, electronic recyclers and construction demolition recyclers.

“It’s an eye-opening day for most people. “Our focus is on showing teachers and educators what’s happening and letting them think about how best to link with curriculum topics,” says Hendrikx.

“We also offer professional learning at different sites, where we pick a school or site that’s done something interesting, such as removing their bins entirely, and ask them to host a learning session.”


Torrensville Primary School, west of Adelaide’s CBD, takes sustainability to heart. After a visit from WOW in 2016, the school established a sustainability committee that focused on improving the school’s recycling strategy.

Year 3/4 teacher David Peterson says the school began by collecting 10 cent recyclable containers. “Then they rolled out organics collection in each classroom, as well as paper and cardboard recycling.”

In the program’s first year, it achieved a 32 per cent reduction in the volume of material sent to landfill and was recognised at the 2017 WOW Awards.

The school has also created a kitchen garden, incorporating indigenous plants.

“Student representatives from each class met with the teachers and planned out the design of the garden, and how to encourage bees and butterflies,” says Peterson.

“Now the produce is used at school and shared with the local community. The committee is also involving students in composting by gathering vegetable scraps.

Kids have to be trained in how to do it and they get a composting licence too.”

One of the school’s signature initiatives is ‘Sustainability Superheroes’.

“The kids go around with their capes and collect rubbish at lunchtimes or do different jobs for the sustainability programs. It’s created a bit of a buzz,” says Peterson.

“It’s a really good place to work here because these things are genuinely ours.

“It’s not something that the department has asked us to do, but something we’ve chosen to do, so there’s investment in it. Over my nine years here I’ve really noticed that the kids coming up from the early years have more environmental awareness,” says Peterson.

“There is more initiative and motivation coming from the students, whereas previously we had to plant the seed for the idea in their heads. There’s been a big change in the attitude of the students.”

Feedback from the frontline

What is sustainability?

Elsie, 6 years: “Sustainability means recycling things and reusing plastic instead of throwing it away.”

Jude, 6 years: “Sustainability means picking up rubbish and not letting the world down by using plastics.”

What is the best thing about being involved in your school’s sustainability program?

Elsie: “I liked collecting 10 cent bottles and containers and making produce bags out of old curtaining material.”

Jude: “I liked being a Sustainability Superhero and picking up rubbish.
I liked collecting 10 cent containers and making parsley scones with the parsley we grew in our garden.”


This article was first published in The Australian Educator, Autumn 2020