School uniform recycling could tackle poverty and help save the environment in Wakefield

At Horbury Bridge Academy, pupils have organised a school uniform recycling bank, with items starting from just 50p.At Horbury Bridge Academy, pupils have organised a school uniform recycling bank, with items starting from just 50p.
At Horbury Bridge Academy, pupils have organised a school uniform recycling bank, with items starting from just 50p.
A school uniform recycling scheme could help to tackle poverty and environmental issues in Wakefield, it has been suggested.

Schools across the district are working to reduce waste by offering uniform recycling schemes, particularly for items branded with school logos.

Mary Creagh, MP for Wakefield, chairs the government’s Environmental Audit Committee, and has previously called for an end to “throwaway fashion”.

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She said she wanted to see more schools in the district supporting the idea of school uniform recycling and pointed to the Uniform Exchange in Huddersfield, which works with more than 200 schools to support families who struggle with the cost of school uniform, and last year gave out more than 8,500 items.

At Horbury Bridge Academy, a project by year 6 pupils has led to a school uniform recycling bank.

The school collects unused items of uniform, which it recycles and sells on to parents, with prices starting from just 50p.

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Headteacher Janette Skinner said: “We have a year six group of children who are promoting environmentally friendly lifestyles in lots of different ways. We ask parents to donate uniform that they no longer need, we wash it and hang it and wheel it out to the playground.

“It saves a lot of uniform going into landfill because especially branded uniform won’t be reused.

“We just charged a very small amount and it’s actually available all year by going into the school office. It’s a good way of people being able to recycle.”

Mrs Skinner said that similar schemes in the past had failed to take off, but she believed that referring to the clothes as “recycled”, rather than “secondhand”, made the collection more appealing, and removed some of the stigma around the project.

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At their last sale, the school, which has around 100 pupils, sold 35 items.

At Cathedral Academy, a weekly Eco Club meeting has drawn the attention of pupils, who hope to make their school more environmentally friendly - beginning with their school uniform. More than 20 pupils attend the club each week, with others attending on a regular basis.

Miriam Kearney, the school’s chaplain, runs the club. She said: “Lots of people are really passionate but they don’t really have the knowledge to speak to others. What we’ve done for the past few months is real education about environmental issues. The pupils can give you the statistics and articulate that really well. We’ve worked on that.

“They are really passionate about it and they really know what they’re talking about. “It’s not just something that we introduce them to in school, they’re clearly going home, researching things watching programmes and from my perspective that’s fantastic, because they could be doing so many other things with their time.”

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Cathedral Academy has also partnered with manufacturing company Keltic Ties, and will provide all new year 7 pupils with an Eco Tie from September.

Eco Ties are made from recycled polyester yarn, and each tie saves two plastic bottles from landfill.

Ms Kearney said: “Every tie every one saves two plastic bottles from landfill. We put an order of 500, so to be able to say to students in year 7 that 1,000 plastic bottles have been saved from landfill has been amazing.

“It’s looking for those small everyday changes that you can make. Not everybody can go protest in London, not everybody can buy an electric car, but those small differences that you make every day.”

Recycling Schemes

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More than a million tonnes of clothes, worth £140m, go to landfill in the UK each year.

School uniforms, particularly those with specific branding, are often discarded at the end of the school year, but a uniform recycling scheme could help to end this.

At a meeting earlier this month, Mary Creagh MP spoke to local schools and charities about the importance of reusing school uniforms.

She said: “One in three children in Wakefield live below the breadline, and buying new uniforms, shoes and P.E. kits can push families into debt.

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“As the school year ends, parents wonder what to do with old uniforms as children grow out of their clothes so quickly. Simply discarding uniforms harms the environment, and wastes resources.

“It’s good to see so many Wakefield schools tackle these problems head on.

“I hope that our meeting is the start of greater awareness of the benefits of school uniform re-use which can help children across the District.”

The Cost

School uniform is a £2.3bn a year industry, one report suggests.

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A recent report from The Children’s Society found that parents spend an average of £255 a year on uniform for each primary school child.

For secondary school pupils, this raises to £340 per child.

Blazers, shoes and bags were among the most expensive items.

Parents also said that being forced to buy items from a specific supplier was driving up the price, with costs averaging £71 per year higher for secondary school children and £77 higher for primary school children.

Wakefield in Poverty

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Almost 22,000 children in Wakefield are living below the poverty line, according to End Child Poverty.

In figures published earlier this year, the campaign found 7,042 children living in poverty in Wakefield, 7,273 in Hemsworth and a further 7,541 in the Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford constituency.

In total, the study found, more than 31 per cent of children in the district are living in poverty.

It comes as food bank giant The Trussell Trust warn that UK food banks will face their busiest summer ever.

The charity say that 87,496 food parcels went to children in the UK during the summer holidays in 2018.