Rustenburg Girls’ High encourages ‘green living’

It’s an achievement due in large part to the determination of its campus manager, Myles Siebrits, and resolute support from pupils, staff, parents and the community at large.

Today, Rustenburg Girls’ High School is the poster school for green living and proudly oversees everything from unique recycling projects to food production.

“We had always recycled with things like glass recycling and the paper bank,” Mr Siebrits said

“About six years ago, we had two shipping containers, which were used for waste. The problem was that these became incredibly hot, and the girls weren’t happy. It was hot and not hygienic at all. That was when I thought that we needed to do something else.”

In 2011, under the guidance of the school’s Earth Children Society and the campus development and maintenance committee, some new initiatives were introduced, including a proper recycling and re-use programme, a food garden, the development of an arboreal plan, starting a compost production facility and introducing a tree and flower bed mulching system.

A specialised recycling shed was also established.

While these were very successful, Mr Siebrits and his team felt even more could be done.

So, in 2014, his son and environmental consultant, Raymond Siebrits, was asked to produce a sustainability overview document, focusing on five areas: water, energy. supply, waste and ecology. From this point onwards, sustainability was built into every aspect of school life.

“We started working with companies, and we established projects like the Woolworths initiative, which saw them donate waste disposal units to the school. We also opened up our recycling services to neighbours, and people started feeding in their waste like bottles into our bottle bank on site. Then we linked with Oasis Association, which agreed to collect our plastic waste and cardboard. In exchange, we provide them with white paper every Thursday, as per their request.”

Mr Siebrits acknowledged that keeping up with the school’s sustainability ambitions had not always been easy, but pupils and staff preferred to see “challenges, not difficulties”.

“One of the challenges has been ground staff capacity, and once we had put our plans in place, we found that the Woolies bins started to fill up twice as quickly. We were also doubling up on glass as well.”

He said another challenge was separating what he termed “spoilt” plastic from plastic waste.

“Spoilt plastic occurs where you still have food or drink left in the container, things like smoothie or coffee containers and milk bottles. We now have to sort this out ourselves, which is obviously time-consuming, but there is an amazing recycling facility in Athlone which takes care of this for us.”

One of the school’s proudest achievements is an initiative launched on the first day of the school year. The intention is to reduce school waste to landfill and eventually remove waste-to-landfill dependency entirely.

“Our ‘zero waste to landfill’ project has been tremendously successful.

“After placing extra recycling bins around campus, which included receptacles for organic and food waste, the concept was introduced to pupils during morning assembly.

“It was wonderful, because we used some of our ground staff to help educate the girls as well, so they were hearing from people who work with recycling every day. The organic and food waste is composted using the Bokashi method and added to the school’s own compost windrows.

The Bokashi method involves a bran-type substance being placed over the organic matter, which breaks it down over a 21-day period.

“Our solid waste collection contract with the City of Cape Town has been cancelled, which has generated a further saving. We were sending 26 bins of waste to landfill a week. That was 1 400 bins annually, which equated to 350 cubic square metres of waste – enough to fill the school’s swimming pool.”

Recently Rustenburg has also begun to emphasise its solar power power capabilities, with panels installed on Mr Siebrits’s home on the property, as well as the hostel. Three monitors are stationed around the school, so that pupils can track power usage and how solar power is able to save money on monthly bills.

It is hardly surprising that the school’s sustainability efforts have been recognised nationally.

In 2014, Rustenburg Girls’ was awarded an Eco-Schools Green Flag for working towards a healthy environment and whole school development, while last year it was awarded a Gold Award by the organisation.