Damian Hinds challenges all schools to go single-use plastic free by 2022

Education secretary Damian Hinds has challenged all schools to eliminate using single-use plastics by 2022 – urging school leaders to shun plastic bags, straws and bottles in favour of sustainable alternatives.

Hinds said schools can “lead by example” in the government’s drive to reduce plastic waste, including by starting conversations with pupils about the effects discarded plastic has on the environment and wildlife.

His ambition for schools to banish single-use plastics did not include any additional funding to assist changes. Instead he said his department would “increase communication” with school suppliers over their use of plastic packaging for milk cartons given to reception pupils, for example.

It’s not always easy but we all have a role to play in driving out avoidable plastic waste

Hinds also urged school leaders to follow the example of Georgeham Primary, in Devon, which became the UK’s first school to achieve single-use plastic free status earlier this year.

“Plastic can harm our precious environment and be lethal to wildlife,” Hinds said. “The leadership shown by schools like Georgeham Primary in going single use plastic free is an impressive example for us all – and I want work to support every school in the country following their lead by 2022.

“It’s not always easy but we all have a role to play in driving out avoidable plastic waste, and with more schools joining others and leading by example, we can help to leave our planet in a better state than we found it.”

The Devon school was awarded the accolade by Surfers against Sewage, a marine conservation charity, after the school got rid of plastic from its supply chain. It also replaced any single-use plastics with recyclable plastics.

For instance, the school agreed a deal with its suppliers to deliver milk in recyclable containers which could then be consumed out of washable beakers – instead of cartons with plastic straws.

The charity is working with more than 200 schools towards plastic free status, its website states.

Hinds said his department will “increase communication” with the school supply chain over plastic packaging of milk cartons and other “day to day” supplies for schools. But his “ambition” is for schools to work with suppliers to make the changes.

Julian Thomas, headteacher at Georgeham primary school, said his pupils “enthusiastically played their part” in helping the school cut plastic waste, adding: “I am confident children across the rest of the country would also welcome the challenge!”

He said the school made only “relatively minor changes” to achieve its status, such as replacing cling film for foil in the canteen.

In January, the government pledged to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042. There are also plans to introduce a new tax on plastic packaging which isn’t at least 30 per cent recycled content from April 2022 .

Hinds added: “On my first school visit as education secretary almost a year ago, the very first question I was asked by a pupil was what we can do to limit the damage of plastic on the environment.

“Reducing our use of plastic clearly is an important and timely issue which has captured the interest and the imagination of everyone in society.”