The smallest piece of plastic that might be fluttering in the breeze in the playground at Kaitaia's Mission Place Kindergarten has a very short lifespan these days.
Before it has any chance to slip through the fence a tiny pair of hands is certain to swoop on it, and deposit it in one of the recycling bins just inside the door. And, head teacher Sheryl Nelley said last week, it would always be the right bin.
The children had developed a much greater appreciation of their natural environment, and their part in it, over the last two years, she said, and that understanding had been officially recognised with an Enviroschools bronze award.
Northland Regional councillor Colin Kitchen made the presentation. Mrs Nelley said that while the kindergarten had embarked upon its Enviroschools journey at the beginning of 2018, the kaupapa had been a natural fit.
"Education for sustainability was already a natural part of the ways of doing and being here, and the kaiako, tamariki and whānau were extremely excited to join the Enviroschool programme and continue their journey," she said.
Plastic-free July had been a time for deep thinking and reflection, which inspired huge changes in the kindergarten's practice, programme and environment, including moving from plastic cups and bowls to glass, purchasing plates and cutlery for whānau evenings and everyday use from second-hand stores, a drinking fountain and glass water jugs.
"No more throw-away one-use items," she said.
"We installed our own rain water tank as we began our vision to be self-sustainable, creating an environment that celebrated and showed aroha toward our world through changing our resources, purchasing art equipment made from wood, removing plastic felt tips, glue, sellotape, glitter, painting using mirrors instead of paper, and clay instead of playdough.
"There is much more.
"We have an on going vision to continue to research and find practices that are kind to ourselves, and more importantly our world and all living things.
"Creating a waste-sorting station has led to learning around where waste goes, what and how to reuse.
"Our worm farm is well established, and we built a wooden composting bin.
"Our hand paper waste is collected and taken by CBEC to be hot-composted.
"We celebrate that nearly every week our roadside rubbish bin is almost empty."
"We had recognised that we needed to do more to be fully efficient for ideal sustainable practices and to further empower our tamariki, educating the parents and having manageable systems in place. Our tamariki have taken full responsibility in supporting each other in decision-making on where waste can go, emptying the bins for composting, feeding our treasured worms and reducing the small amount heading to roadside collection.
"Hand paper was our biggest landfill waste, and with the support of the amazing Jo, from CBEC, we now make our own compostable wet wipes, which, along with our paper towels, are turned into compost to feed our whenua.
"Single-use plastic bags were not our way, and we were using brown paper bags for nappies and clothing.
"At times this didn't work for whānau, as the paper became soggy. Jo to the rescue again; she made us wet bags by up-cycling chicken seed sacks. Great idea, but we need to work on how to encourage whānau to bring them back."
Meanwhile their involvement in the national call for climate change action, and in the international School Strike 4 Climate Change movement, had seen the tamariki labelled eco-warriors in their local paper.
"There was a real sense of mana and pride as they shared their messages, verbally and on posters, of their concern for the rubbish they see and how it is hurting Papatuanuku and animals in our world," Mrs Nelley added.
"Rubbish is never left on Papatuanuku when our tamariki are around, and they are confident enough to stand and tell others this important message of kaitiakitanga."
Meanwhile being part of the Enviroschools community had led the kindergarten team on a long-term vision to create a new, inspiring outdoor space, which would mean removing the large fixed play structure.
"A design was created by Nature Play NZ after many team discussions, research and time for consultation with our tamariki and whānau," she said.
"Our outdoor environment will be our main focus for 2020, as we take small steps in completing our larger amazing vision for our tamariki.
"Our tamariki are proud to be kaitiaki of our area, as well as the wider community.
"Our kindergarten pepeha connects children with our iwi and hapū — we are all whānau, we are all connected.
"Enviroschools has not just guided our kindergarten, it has promoted changes in thinking and practices within the homes of the kaiako and our whānau.
"Our tamariki are our future leaders, teaching and learning together.
"We will continue to share our vision for Enviroschools in all we do."