By CELA on 14 Nov, 2019

2024 note: While this article refers to 4Rs, The EYLF V2.0 has been updated to include 7Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle, respect, repair, reflect and refuse).

Refuse, Rethink, Reduce and Reuse – urging adults to reduce coffee cup waste

“Recycling is really the last ‘R’ that we’re concerned with,” says KU Sustainability Manager, Deb Watson, who is also Early Childhood Environmental Education Network Treasurer – “We start with Refuse, Rethink, Reduce and Reuse, before considering Recycling.”

All four ‘R’s feature in The Coffee Cup Project, an initiative created by the children and educators at KU’s Joey’s Club, located at Qantas headquarters in Sydney. The children noticed that the recycling bins at Qantas had pictures of coffee cups on them and staff were throwing their used disposable cups into the recycling bins. This upset the children as they knew that coffee cups are not recyclable because of the plastic coating. They learnt from the precinct café owner that he sells between two to four thousand cups of coffee each day, mostly in disposable cups.

“The children were horrified and determined to do something about it,” said educator Shalini Jayram, who became the coordinator of the The Coffee Cup Project. “They wrote letters to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, and we even practiced calling him.”

Joyce responded to their efforts by visiting them at the centre and hearing their concerns. Within a week he appointed a project team to work with the children on how to reduce the use of disposable coffee cups at Qantas head office.

In January 2018, Qantas set up separate bins to collect disposable coffee cups, and started to urge staff to use their own or keep cups.

To ramp up the communication campaign, on World Environment Day 2018 the children brought a giant coffee cup sculpture they had made from the discarded disposable cups into the café precinct at Qantas headquarters. They ran a guessing competition inviting staff to guess how many cups were in the sculpture, and used this as an opportunity to explain the impact on the environment of single use disposable cups.

Qantas staff got the message and most have switched to using Keep Cups. Qantas now uses Simply Cups collecting systems to support the first coffee cup recycling system in Australia. Together they now have zero disposable cups in the general bins, and have significantly reduced the use of disposable cups.

The Joey Club is proud of what they were able to achieve, especially how, “the children were able to experience that their voices matter, and they have the power to make changes in their community.” 

03 Qantas CEO Alan Joyce listens to KU Joey_s Club children_s concerns about managing used coffee cups better 

A nature excursion inspires children to clean up our waterways

For the children at Ballykin in Rose Bay and Explore & Develop Annandale, it was a walk to experience nature that opened their eyes to the disgusting amount of rubbish in our waterways – and they determined to do something about it.

Ballykin’s coordinator Beatriz Ferreira said, “We wanted to stop taking the children to the rubbish filled beach, but they insisted that we should try to clean it up so they can keep playing there. So together with their parents, we decided to embrace the problem and fight to clean up the beach.”

The children became incredible agents of transformation, coming up with many ideas to solve the problem: by cleaning up the rubbish themselves, making signs to tell people to take care of their rubbish, writing to the council to ask them to clean the beach more often, and making art works with rubbish to show how bad it is for the animals.

"As a result we have seen significant changes in families, educators and centre awareness about ocean pollution," said Beatriz. "People have changed habits and adopted more sustainable practices.”

In Annandale the children at Explore & Develop were also highly motivated to stop people throwing their rubbish into the canal and water-ways. They noticed that it was mostly plastic rubbish, especially bags, which they learnt can kill sea animals who eat or get tangled in them.

They started with research in the community and discovered that some shops used hundreds of plastic bags each day – and it turned out that the supermarket under their centre used 2,000 per day!

They decided to take the practical step of making re-usable cloth bags for their own families to use and encouraging the local shops to offer them to their customers as well.

This became a mammoth project, teaming up with Boomerang Bags to learn how to make bags and design their own logo badge to sew onto each bag. They asked families to help make the bags, and engaged the Annandale community to change to their re-usable cloth bags instead of single use plastic bags.

The message from the children was moving and simple:

Dear Shops of Annandale,
We are the children from Explore & Develop Annandale. We are 4,3, 2, 1 & 0 years old.
We’re tired of plastic bags! We want to help the environment.
Please let us put our Boomerang bags in your shop.
Plastic bags hurt animals. Please look after the land. All over the world!

- Matilda – 4 yrs 8 months

They won an ECEEN SPROuts Award, and to top it all off, Play School heard about the project and came to film the children so they could tell their message to the whole country.

What shines through with each of these projects is how motivated and determined the children are to take action and make a difference, which spurs the educators on to help find solutions, and emboldens them to take on powerful forces.

They are changing the world – one Boomerang Bag, one re-usable coffee cup and one beeswax wrap at a time.

Making Boomerang Bags 

Do you have a story about how your centre is showing respect for the environment?

We’d love to hear it. Please email us via including a brief overview of the initiatives you would like to share.

More information

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About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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