Nearly Waste-Free Wonderland


What could we do to make this School Fete less wasteful? That was the question I was asked by the fete committee at Junction Park State School in Brisbane, a few months ago. My answer was and is always the same; encourage people to take responsibility and make it easy and fun for people to do the right thing. I have identified 10 key steps to planning a zero waste event, but its really up to the organiser to determine what level they are willing to commit to, knowing that every little bit helps!

If the organisers are brand new to the idea of running a waste free event, like this school was, it helps to identify the low hanging fruit, the changes nobody would argue against. If we were to start by diverting all food waste and recyclables from landfill by implementing a clearly labelled separate bin system, we could potentially reduce waste by up to fifty percent, with little to no extra effort. That we’re sending organic matter to landfill in 2019 is a rather scary thought, but that’s were are at, and the most important thing is that we are now in a position to change that. Our society is moving into a phase of waste reduction and resource recovery and it not only feels good, it also makes financial sense and it is the only way forward if we plan to stay on this planet for a little while longer. The estimated cost of disposing solid waste to landfill range between $45 and $105 per tonne in Queensland at the moment, but that number is sure to increase as sites for landfill becomes scarcer and more remote, and the true cost of polluted soil, water and air becomes clearer.

As a school event, run by parents, students and teachers, this fete was an excellent opportunity to educate, inspire and empower people to take responsibility. It initiated many important conversations around long term sustainability, and got people to think about their own habits. With the right communication and a clearly stated goal, people are generally very enthusiastic and supportive of sustainable initiatives.

Junction Park State School is lucky to have a very passionate school community. There are many great low waste fete ideas already up and running such as trash and treasure, homemade jams and treats, face painting, interactive art spaces, and relax rooms. They are also highly supportive of local businesses, growers, bakers, artists and community groups, as you can see in the video and photos below.


Here is what Junction Park State School did differently this year:

  • Stall holders were encouraged to only use reusable or compostable plates and cutlery.

  • A couple of hundred reusable plates were lent out to stallholders from the after school care facility.

  • People were encouraged to bring their own cups, plates, water bottles and cutlery via newsletter, flyers and posters at school, click here to download the poster that was used.

  • Teachers were asked to send out a ‘BYO’ reminder to all parents and careers via email or Class Dojo App a couple of days prior to the event.

  • Bins were clearly labelled and easy to find.

  • A waste management company called Mallow Sustainability was hired to help arrange bins, minimise contamination and ensure maximum resource recovery of organics and recyclables. They also provided a waste audit and some statistics on how the school went. All refunds from the DCL cans and bottles provided extra money for the school.

  • A wash up station was placed close to the food area with a big tub for washing and one for rinsing. Water and towels were changed regularly to make sure clean water and dry towels were always available.

  • A basket was placed at the wash up station to help return clean plates to food stalls.

  • A bike was transformed into a pedal powered smoothie blender for the lemonade and smoothie stall.

Here are some learnings and ideas for improvements:

  • Communication. People know what a fete is, they already know there will be rides and sweets, so make sure all marketing material states that the event will be waste-free / low waste and that they need to come prepared. State your goal and why it matters.

  • Signage! Have bigger an cleaner signage on bins, of what goes in what, and set up as waste stations rather than single bins spread out. Big signs and clearly stated goals, like “Our goal is to only have one bin of general waste this year, because…” really helps to engage and inspire people. Be creative!

  • Hire clear bins so everyone can see whats being thrown.

  • Measurements matter! Make some posters about the positive impacts the school can make, i.e "This year we have saved XXX kilos of food waste from being sent to landfill.”

  • Bring the waste audit statistics into class! Encourage the children to create an interactive scoreboard to measure, problem solve, set new challenges, celebrate wins and inspire more innovative thinking, not just for events but everyday!

  • Buy lollies in bulk and set up a ‘weigh and pay’ stall, like an old candy shop, instead of selling individually wrapped lollies.

  • Set up a bar instead of a drink stall with cans and poppers. Soft drinks and lemonade can be served on tap.

  • Remove take away cup option from coffee stall altogether, when there is a $1 hire charge on a cup people will remember to bring their own.

  • Plan for people forgetting by setting up a “hire a plate” stall. If it charges a small fee, that is enough to encourage people to come prepared.

  • Stop using cling wrap for baked goods, investigate other options such as waxed paper wraps, wide mouthed glass jars or use a glass cabinet that can be restocked and people can use their own containers to bring their goodies home.

  • Designate a “litter police team” to be responsible for keeping the ground clean throughout the event. This is something kids could have some fun with. They could hand out creative and thought provoking warnings.

  • Get creative with the food offering. Make sustainable food options attractive.

  • Avoid buying decor such as plastic glitters and other environmental nightmares, and choose to reuse materials already in circulation or compostable alternatives such as biodegradable glitter.

  • Hire solar panels to power all stalls.

Make it easy and fun, to do the right thing

Overall, make it easy and fun for people to do the right thing, eliminate options that are no good to anyone and plan for people to show up unprepared. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate! Involve people in the cause, share the goals and why it matters! Events like these are excellent opportunities to encourage creativity and innovation in children, and inspire a positive behaviour shift in the wider community. By working on projects like this, children will learn some of the most important skills; how to work together, how to think creatively, how to solve problems, how to engage and positively inspire an entire community, and how to set, measure, achieve and celebrate their goals.

This school fete has already inspired a number of Brisbane schools to follow in their footsteps before this story was even published!


“300 litres of food waste and compostable serveware was recovered from landfill and composted”

- Jess Lindsay, Mallow Sustainability


“Zero recyclable materials was sent to landfill”

Photo: Keeping only the favourites.

Junction Park reduced their waste by more than 50%