Towards Clean, Green Central Coast Canteens

A project by Central Coast Environmental Education Network

This project used incentives to educate and engage 34 Central Coast schools and canteens on the issue of single-use plastics, resulting in behaviour changes that have reduced waste to landfill, playground litter and stormwater pollution.

In late 2017, members of the Central Coast Environmental Education Network launched the ‘Central Coast Green Canteen Challenge’ to primary and high schools in their region. The project team reached their stakeholders by tapping into four existing networks, with educators from Rumbalara Environmental Education Centre, Kariong Eco Garden and Take 3 giving presentations at the meetings of: Primary School Canteen Managers; High School Canteen Managers; Primary School Principals; and the Central Coast Healthy Gardens.

At these events over 90 canteen managers, principals and teachers were educated about single-use plastics and the impacts they have on our oceans. A free gift of wooden forks, spoons or paper straws to trial in the canteen was offered to schools that completed an online survey about their canteen’s use of plastic items, their recycling practices and common types of litter in the playground.

"Working with the project team has been a great experience. Our planning time connected us closely and increased our desire to reduce waste on the Central Coast as a team. We all plan to work together in the future and will continue to work with this project. The template guide was a good reference but was also quite lengthy for a small amount of funding – it would be useful as a template for larger projects."
Christine Freeman, Rumbalara Environmental Education Centre

A further incentive was offered to canteen managers who accepted the challenge to reduce single-use plastics, that involved points being allocated for adopting new behaviours. Canteen managers who achieved four or more points went into a draw to win a ‘Pamper Pack’, a clever enticement to meet the needs of the target audience of hard-working women.

"Green Canteens has been an amazing collaborative project that has pulled together diverse stakeholders with a common interest – to reduce waste, particularly plastic waste, in school campuses.  'Green Canteens’ allowed us to proactively engage directly with canteen managers and give canteen managers a voice in this plastic waste debate.  Knowing the pitfalls and hurdles for waste reduction from a canteen managers perspective, we have set the stage for ‘Green Canteens’ Phase 2!"
Roberta Dixon, Take 3

By the end of Term 2 2018, 47% of school canteens had participated in the challenge and adopted the following new behaviours: 69% phased out plastic straws; 56% replaced plastic cutlery with compostable cutlery; 38% replaced plastic or styrofoam packaged items with sustainable packaging such as paper wraps, bees wax wraps or cardboard trays; and 38% talked to their food suppliers about plastic packaging alternatives. 69% of schools also adopted other changes, including phasing out bottled water and requesting no plastic bags with their food deliveries from a major supermarket.

"How green is your canteen?" has been a really positive collaboration and feels like the beginning of something.  We have found many canteen managers, Principals and teachers are interested in reducing single-use plastics. There were challenges with the logistics of delivering our gifts and following up with schools who started the survey but didn't complete it.  In some schools multiple people completed the survey unaware that their colleague had also done it.  There is room for some improved communication in schools about this issue - in ways that hasn't happened before. I am really happy that we have taken a reward approach to the issue and our message of small steps in the right direction."
Lisa Wriley, Kariong Eco Garden

Wooden plaques were awarded to the winning canteens and due to the momentum created by the challenge, program collaborators are continuing to support schools to reduce plastic use and the 2018 Schools Environment Award given by Central Coast Council is focussing on reducing single use plastics.

"I had the opportunity to listen to the “needs and wants” of the canteen managers and staff. I believe their initial concerns were wanting to make the ‘switch’ to greener options but found there to be a number of roadblocks (supplier packaging, cost, principal support and school bin distribution – lack of yellow recyclable bins) that has left them with reservations regarding making greener changes. After meeting with them, and explaining how we are here to help and support them, I now feel they have a platform to build on with the support from each other, Green Canteen initiative, Central Coast Health and their principals."
Sharon Carson, Rumbalara Environmental Education Centre


  • Central Coast Environmental Education Network
  • Rumbalara Environmental Education Centre
  • Central Coast Council
  • Kariong Eco Garden
  • Take 3
  • Total Environment Centre
  • Tangaroa Blue Foundation
  • Community Environment Network
  • Australian Association for Environmental Education- NSW Chapter




The team had planned to deliver the cutlery so that more time could be spent personally talking to Canteen Managers. This proved to be too much of a time commitment and the schools did not get their cutlery till later in the project. Attending meetings to promote the project was more time efficient.

Next time we would look for these larger meeting opportunities.

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