Year 7 and 8 tauira (students) at Point England School are developing sensors for their recycling bins, a bin compactor system and educating their school community how to recycle waste generated in the school property, in a project they have named Bincurity.
Students assembling bin sensors
The students want to prevent waste from children’s lunch boxes, including many soft plastics, blowing into the Ōmaru Creek, which neighbours the school, and runs into the Tāmaki estuary.
“It’s a very polluted creek. That is our awa, our river and we are the kaitiaki [environmental guardians] of that. We are very aware that when the westerly wind blows in, rubbish in the playgrounds goes into the river,” says STEM Teacher Jackson Vogt.
Year 8 student Marika Bowden-King says she and the students worry about fish eating rubbish and plastics. “What if there was no rubbish? That would be amazing, but there is rubbish and it is our problem right now.”
Students drilling holes in a soft plastics compactor prototype.
Educating the whole school
The students first ran an education programme showing their peers where to recycle their lunch box waste at lunch times in 2018, which their prefects started calling Bincurity.
“They like the idea of being security guards for the environment. It kind of gives us our own culture," says Jackson. "They don’t talk about recycling, they talk about Bincurity.”
The students were so successful in raising awareness that they no longer need to focus on that for 2019, so the young scientists have now moved their energy to their Robotics Rōpū component.
Student holding a sensor
Once a week during their lunch break, some students volunteer to work with scientists from Fisher and Paykel Healthcare on developing the bin sensors, using 36 wheelie bins, digital components and other materials donated through the South Auckland Participatory Science Platform.
Waste and recycle bin sensors
The ultrasonic sensors use inaudible sound waves to measure whether the bin is empty, half full or full. The final stage is to code the sensors and connect them to the school website, where the status of each bin can be monitored.
Jackson says the problem-solving work has got the students involved in engineering, robotics and construction as well as working in groups, and they have loved the hands-on experience.
Student Zaeeda Khan says she enjoys the experimental learning. “Even if we are getting it wrong, the teachers and engineers will let us learn from it and think about what we do next. Learning from a book can only take you so far, but doing things yourself lets you think more deeply.”
The tauira have also nearly finished making a soft plastics compactor, after developing three prototypes. While they are disappointed that soft plastics are currently not being collected from schools for recycling, they are hopeful this will resume soon. Ultimately, they hope for a time when fewer soft plastics come into the school in the first place.
Call for fewer plastics in their world
The students are also calling on their adult community to stop making throwaway plastics and reduce non-recyclable waste altogether, both in their Auckland community and around the world.
“We understand we need to do something,” says Marika. “We want to see more action from our parents’ generation on climate change. I think we need to show them what is happening and what the future generation will have to deal with, because they are making more plastic and polluting.”
While the students are pleased with their progress, there is always more to do, says Zaeeda. “I think our school can keep doing more to help. It should be the teachers and parents as well as the kids. We can raise awareness of the world together.”
Jackson says it is satisfying as a teacher to see his tauira take pride in solving real world problems and working with their community. “That is probably the most rewarding thing for me. They are working towards real goals and learning along the way.”
Students and engineers have collaborated to reduce Point England School's environmental footprint.
About the Project
Bincurity is run by Point England School with support from the South Auckland Participatory Science Platform.