Category Archives: environmental education


I appears that many global forces of unsustainability have been swirling of late. The synergy with which these forces interact, and the non-linear effects make predictions near impossible. Most economists and politicians appear to be in utter denial of anything other than a return to “growth” and “business as usual.” (I’d say that is the one place we are not headed.) But one economist in particular seems to be able to recognize potential problems better than others.
You may recall that Roubini was the one who accurately predicted the financial crisis of 2008. Are you going to believe him, or someone like Greenspan or Bernanke or Geitner who had no clue?
While the right mixture of forces can, indeed, make storms perfect, the right combination of design, communication and education can make solutions perfect. For example, this weekend the ECO School helped the YMCA manage the waste stream for the Connecting Families Day.
No, not that YMCA, this YMCA.
With over 20 years of experience in award-winning resource recovery programs, we felt confident about working with the Y with the goal of a zero waste event. I’ll write more about the mechanical details in another post, but the guiding principles for success when managing events such as this are:
1) Plan ahead. Sometimes called “pre-cycling,” this means thinking about the entire waste stream of the event and planning accordingly. For example, we ordered compostable cups for both hot and cold drinks. Zero waste.
2) Design. (“Failure to design is to design to fail.”) The physical lay out of collection containers is important. They must be clustered together. For example, we had bins for compost, paper recycling, drinks bottles recycling, and miscelaneous rubbish all together at one station.
3) Communication. This comes in a couple of forms. A) Signage must be brief, clear, colorful and at eye-level for both children and adults. B) Announcements can be used to remind attendees that this is a zero waste event and their efforts are crucial for success.
4) Education. Including the why and how of resource recovery is important to give people reason to act. Our education effort took two forms this weekend. A) I manned the resource recovery station to interact with people and monitor quality control. B) Our friend, Hadi, provided home composting advice at the Sustainable Whanganui table.

5) Quality control. Essential, essential, essential. No one wants to pick through dirty bins afterwards. Make sure everything goes in its proper place during the event. As mentioned above, quality control can and should go hand-in-hand with education.
By employing the above strategy, we were able to divert over 95% of the waste stream from landfill while role modeling positive behaviours to families. Those are world-class results. Not bad for weekend work.
More details on our composting process in a later post.
Peace, Estwing

Permaculture Education in Wanganui Schools

After a great deal of effort from the Sustainable Whanganui Trust and we of The ECO School, permaculture education is reaching Wanganui schools.

A recently completed project with Wanganui High School used the Eco-Thrifty Renovation with senior students in a Level 3 sustainability course. The project was used as an example of a “sustainability initiative” for the students to assess on its merits. Two class meetings at the school were followed by a site visit. The project received much praise from students and teacher alike. The teacher said he would definitely get his Level 2 class out for a site visit.

The current project – The Science of Sustainability – at Wanganui Intermediate School involves over 700 students. In coordination with the school’s science teacher, The ECO School has designed a programme to get students excited about the upcoming science fair through highlighting the science – physics, biology, chemistry – of a permaculture installation: The Eco-Thrifty Renovation. The scientific topics highlighted include passive solar design, solar cookers, rocket stoves, insulation, thermal drapes, compost, aerated compost teas, organic food production and various aspects of bicycling. Response has been excellent so far.

We’ve also had meetings with primary school teachers, but term 1 has proved a difficult time to ask them to take on anything new. We continue to meet with primary schools as term 2 appears more favorable regarding work load. Funding for these programmes comes from Wanganui District Council and is administered by Sustainable Whanganui. Thank you!

Peace, Estwing

10 Watt Pasta

We ran a new workshop this weekend with excellent response from participants. The workshop – Solar and Energy-Efficient Cooking – is part of an ongoing workshop series by The ECO School.

We covered a number of different solar cooker designs and cooking techniques during the first half of the workshop. But for those who have not yet made their own cooker, or for cloudy days, we introduced a number of other energy-efficient cooking techniques. Central to many of those techniques is the straw box.

Our straw box happens to be full of towels, not straw. But we still call it a straw box. The key to a good straw box in insulation on all 6 sides.

A great example of using a straw box – not to mention an excellent energy-saving cooking technique – is what we call “10 watt pasta.” This cooking technique uses a small fraction of the electricity of boiling pasta for 10 minutes on a hob (stovetop). Here’s how to make it.

1) Boil a jug. Because the heating element is inside of the container, heat transfer is more efficient than heating a kettle or sauce pan of water on the stovetop (hob). We fill the jug with our solar hot water which comes from the tap at a high temperature using no electricity.

2) Pour over pasta until covered and place in the straw box.

3) Cover the straw box and wait 20 – 25 minutes. Stir once at 10 to 12 minutes. For al dente pasta, remove at 15 minutes and stir at 8 to 10 minutes.

The pasta comes out perfectly cooked as long as you drain the water at the prescribed times. Use the intervening 25 minutes to make a healthy sauce from fresh veggies and herbs from your garden.

Bon apetito! Estwing