St Ninians school uniform re-use project
Textile waste is a huge issue. Research by Zero Waste Scotland shows that 22,310kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced for every tonne of clothes produced. In comparison, re-using clothing creates just 152kg of CO2 through cleaning and sorting, whilst re-using existing fabrics to produce new items produces 956kg of CO2.
This guest blog from St Ninians Primary School in Stirilng shows just one example of what a school can do to help reduce textile waste, whilst also helping parents to save money.
The School Uniform Re-Use Project at St Ninians Primary School, Stirling, began in the last few weeks of the summer term in 2018. It started out as a lost property dilemma as, like many schools, St Ninians had a huge pile of unclaimed lost property. The problem was that much of the lost property was un-named and therefore unclaimed. To try to solve this problem, the pile was sorted into named and un-named items and once the named items were returned to children, we needed to decide what to do with all of the un-named jumpers and cardigans. This was how the School Uniform Re-Use Project was started - all un-named items would be washed and placed at the front of the school for parents and carers to help themselves to.
While deciding what to do with the clothing we had many thoughts of who should benefit from the project; but decided early on that this would be a community project and should benefit everyone in the school. With concern about the climate crisis and a passion for recycling and the environment we wanted primarily to make sure that the uniform was kept out of landfill. From this came the idea that parents and carers could donate any items of uniform that they no longer needed, and these would also be available for anyone to take. As many charities do not take school uniforms, there are limited outlets for these items, unless you happen to know a family with a child smaller than your own.
When the project began, we had mainly school jumpers and cardigans - as these are the items most often found in lost property. But once we started asking parents to donate the uniform they no longer needed, our stock increased considerably to include polo shirts, trousers, shirts, shorts, skirts, pinafores and even PE kits and shoes. In the first full term that the project ran over 500 items were donated! It was an amazing response and one which has continued - with almost 1,000 items donated in the first school year and a further 600 items donated between August and October of the second year.
Donating uniforms, however, is only part of the project. There is no point having a pile of uniform with no one to wear it. We needed to make sure that the school community were on board to also take the clothing. Two important decisions we made early on, were (1) to make the uniform station very visible - not hiding it away as something to be ashamed of and (2) making the items free - we wanted no monetary donations - only thanks and the hope that the item will come back once it is no longer needed. The project would only work if the whole school embraced the ethos - that school uniform should not be put in the bin!
Re-use projects can bring up different emotions in people and so an important aspect was to educate people on how the project worked and why we believed it was important. It would only work if people donated items but also took them. As well as the primary goal of keeping uniform out of landfill we had secondary goals: we did not want people to think that by taking uniform they were depriving someone else who was more in need; and we did not want people to think that they were being judged or there was any stigma attached to taking uniform. That is, we didn’t want people to think anything other than this was a project that stopped, sometimes brand-new school uniform, going in the bin - because that is what it was created for.
We believe that we have managed to meet these goals. To promote the project and get it to become just another part of the school, we have raised the profile at various points in the school year. For example, in February 2019 we linked it in with Pass it on Week and at any school events that parents attend, such as, parents evening, school open evenings, nursery transition days, summer fayre either ourselves or the very supportive staff have described verbally or in writing the aims and use of the project. At the end of the academic year we targeted P7 pupils and asked them to donate their senior jumpers if they weren’t planning to pass them on to younger siblings or other children. This meant that we had a good supply of senior jumpers for the new P7 pupils. We also asked P6 children who would no longer need their regular school jumpers to donate them if they didn’t have plans for passing them on already. On occasion we have also targeted certain year groups when we have had plenty of stock of certain size items of uniform. As we were focusing on the importance of handing on uniform when children have outgrown it or no longer need it as their uniform has changed, we worked with the school to have the school entrance open between 9am and 1pm for the first and last week of the school holidays. This was extremely popular with families and a lot of items were donated in those two weeks. Uniform was also available for families to take during those two weeks so that families could take uniform in the holidays, so that children were ready for the new school term.
Promoting the project in different ways helped us with raising awareness of the project and decided to make it easier for parents/carers who aren’t often at the school to benefit from the project. Order forms were created and given out to certain year groups describing what we had surplus of. These forms were then returned to the office and the clothing ordered given to the child at the same time as we were returning lost property. The latest addition to the project is to have a notebook at the uniform station so that parents/carers can request any items of uniform that we may not have had. If an item that had been requested was given in as a donation, it was then given to the relevant child at the same time that lost property was returned on a Friday morning. The order forms and notebook appear to work well in these cases.
So, what happened about the big pile of lost property? Well, the school no longer has this problem. Unfortunately, children still come to school with uniform that is not named, however, we now have a solution. Once a week lost property is sorted into named and un-named items. Named items are returned to their owner(s) and un-named items are left for a couple of weeks and if unclaimed, are taken away, washed and then placed in the School Uniform Re-Use Program. If we see a parent/carer looking for lost uniform, we can now tell them to just help themselves from the project and return it if the lost item is found. The great thing about it is that parents/carers can take different sizes and see what fits and return what doesn’t; if a child decides they want to try something new, for example, a skirt instead of a pinafore or a shirt instead of a polo shirt, a parent/carer doesn’t need to buy something not knowing if it would ever be worn - they can help themselves and if the child decides it is not for them, it can be returned.
The St Ninians Primary School Uniform Re-Use Project has been a great success. Parents regularly pop into the school to donate items and take anything they need as their children grow. When new families come to the school, they are shown the uniform project and told that they can help themselves to whatever they need at any time. The focus of the project has always been about waste and keeping school uniform out of landfill to ensure that anything still in a good condition is reused instead of being thrown out. Any unclaimed non-uniform items are donated to charities or the Bags 2 School programme and we pass on any larger items uniform that are not being taken to the Stirling High School for them to pass on to their pupils.
There is so much waste in society and so many items of clothing in good condition that are thrown in the bin every year. The school is doing its part to raise awareness and help stop this waste. Other items have also been suggested for donation/collection and we are currently collecting Halloween costumes and Christmas jumpers. We believe that as well as the support from staff in the school the success has been down to the following:
• The uniform station is in a visible location at the front of the school.
• Uniform can be donated at any time.
• Uniform is free for all families to collect.
• Certain pupil groups being targeted when we know that they will soon reach a point when they may no longer need certain uniform types
The project has become an integral part of St Ninians Primary School with headteacher, Carolann Morrow, describing it in the following way: The uniform project has deepened the sense of community across our school. The commitment from our amazing parents Philippa and Wendy, who started the project has been second to none. More parents are now also supporting the project by lending a hand on a Friday. There is no stigma attached, the uniform station is accessed regularly and sits pride of place at our front door. The project reflects our school values, we are very proud of what it is achieving across our community, and that we are doing our bit for the environment.
One parent who has a child in Primary 3 said about the project, ‘It is a great project. I haven’t bought school uniform in two years’ with another parent saying, ‘I like the fact that you actually see your uniform donations being re-used. It's also a great resource to have readily available if your children are requiring uniform at short notice and you're trying to save money or can't get to the shops.