Francesca Arato is an Eco Designer graduated from the Polytechnic of Turin: we met in New York City, where she was working as an Environmental Education Program Coordinator at Gateway National Recreation Area. She is now working as a School Waste Education Officer in the London Borough of Bexley, where she is part of the Waste and Recycling Team and the SWAC (School Waste Action Club).After meeting her in London in September, I decided to interview her via Skype to discover more about her job.
- What does a School Waste Education Officer do?
We go to every school in Bexley and we organize all-school meetings and activities in the classrooms to promote the “3 Rs”: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The borough invests in education to reduce the waste, especially the one that could be recycled and that often ends up in the “General Waste” bin. This creates a huge environmental impact: for example, the production of toxic gases like methane.
Furthermore, we conduct activities for the entire community (adults are invited, too), concerning the “3 Rs”. There are often workshops whose aim is reusing objects like furniture and clothes. The textile industry is an activity that has a great impact on a global level: just think about all the water and the resources that are invested to produce clothes that, sometimes, aren’t even used.
Another workshop we organize is about food: “Love Food Hate Waste”. In the UK 7 million tons of food are thrown away every year. In the workshops we teach how to preserve food correctly to make it last longer, how to organize meals so people won’t buy more than they need, and how to reuse leftovers creatively. There is even a chef who explains what to do, and together we prepare a meal that the participants can carry home at the end of the workshop. The aim of these activities is to drive the attention on food, to get people to understand that throwing away food means throwing away the resources that were used to produce it and to take it to their homes.
Another thing we do is making sure that kids learn how to recycle correctly (putting the right piece of waste in the right bin), so that they can pass this information to their families. Moreover, we control whether pupils recycle correctly inside the school, and we make sure that every scholastic structure has all the resources that are necessary for recycling: bins, garbage collection services et cetera. This is the less educational part, and the more technical one.
Another interesting project is Eco-Schools, in which we help schools to become environmentally sustainable. This is an international program, in which schools have to reach measurable goals in different sectors: transportation, energy, water consumption etc. We work on waste, helping the various schools to achieve their goals for this parameter.
All the activities we organize are free; the consultation we give to improve the waste management and the delivery of recycling bins are a municipal service, too. We work both with public and private schools.
- How is your typical workday?
When we go to the schools, we start early in the morning. The first activity of the day is the all-school meeting, so first of all we have to prepare the educational materials and to load the car. Then, we go from class to class to conduct the activities. There is an introductory part, which is more theoretical, and then the more practical and creative part, in which we transform waste into something new.
- Can you give us an example of your educational activities?
The activities for little kids are educational and funny: we use food packaging to create musical instruments or little habitats for the local fauna, like birdhouses. We also explain the process to produce paper, and then we make paper all together in the classroom. Another project is breeding worms and taking them to the schools to show children how compost is made.Workshops for young adults include activities to teach them how to manage their meals, since they are getting closer to the age when they live on their own. We often organize debates to discuss the various methods that the borough uses to manage waste: landfills, incinerators, recycling, etc.
- Any new ideas for future projects?
One of the next projects aims at teaching how to make everyday objects from waste. For example, with milk cartons you can build a broom and a dustpan, or spoons. Another useful idea is making wallets from Tetra Pak cartons.
Making it is super-easy! Click here for instructions.
- What was the route that brought you where you are now?
I graduated in Ecodesign (Design of Sustainable Products and Services) at the Polytechnic of Turin: it’s a Master’s Degree of the Faculty of Architecture. I’ve always been interested in the promotion of sustainability in the actions of everyday life. In 2013 I won the Master dei Talenti (a special scholarship by Fondazione CRT, Turin) for an internship at Gateway National Recreation Area in New York. During this internship I had the opportunity to develop the educational program EcoLife, in which children from different structures of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) came to the park to learn more about sustainable development, not just for what concerns waste, but also energy, transportation and water consumption.
Once I finished my work period in New York I searched for a job that could let me continue working in the same field, to promote environmental sustainability trough education.
- What is the most beautiful part of your job?
The act of teaching and seeing how children and adults respond in a positive way to every input. It’s the biggest satisfaction in my job.
- Could you give our readers a piece of advice to reduce their environmental impact in everyday life?
The general concept you have to keep in mind is: “Every time you throw something away, you have to think that you are throwing away a resource”. Especially talking about food and packaging, nobody ever thinks about going to the supermarket and saying “Today I’m going to buy some trash”…which is what we do every time we buy packaged products. My advice is: it’s better to choose unpackaged products!
Credits: Irene Pepe