PHILL Raso has a lot of time for school bins. As Merici College’s new sustainability officer, he’s been managing the school’s waste audit, which monitors students’ recycling practices.
“We collected many wrapped sandwiches and recyclable tupperware containers from the bin, so we’re trying to introduce ‘nude food’, which is eliminating any unnecessary glad-wrap or plastic,” Phill says.
When he was at school in the 1990s, sustainability was a topic rarely heard of.
“I don’t really remember any discussions about things like climate change or carbon emissions when I was at school, it just wasn’t in the public eye and we really didn’t grasp how widespread sustainability really was,” Phill says.
Originally from WA, Phill joined Braddon’s Merici College in August as its new sustainability officer, a position introduced in 2010 as part of the school’s program to reduce its environmental footprint.
While most students are concerned about sustainability, Phill says the school’s youngest members are the most reliable at practising what they preach.
“I’ve found sustainability practices come naturally for the younger students compared to the year 12 girls, perhaps because they grew up with it as it’s so much more present nowadays,” he says.
“Many of them are actually influencing their parents, pulling them up on where their recycling bins are.”
Phill, who has a background in geography and urban planning and teaches sustainability online at Perth’s Murdoch University, will work with students twice a week, raising awareness on issues such as food and water insecurity, sea level rises, climate change and reducing electricity use, through the school’s sustainability elective.
“I plan to give them ‘real world’ projects to reduce their footprint with lifestyle changes, so they learn by experience and see the effects,” says Phill.
“I think it’s really important for them to grasp the issue and see things for themselves first hand.”
An issue that is “most definitely and already” happening locally is climate change, says Phill.
“Canberra just had its warmest winter on record, and the previous warmest winter was only two years ago,” he says.
“We need to educate students about what the climate will be like 50 or 100 years ahead, and think about how to protect them from climate change.”
He adds Canberra schools, in general, are “miles” ahead of the rest of the country in terms of sustainability.
“I don’t know many sustainability officers at schools in other parts of Australia at all, so it’s good to see a school like Merici embracing it… the public school system here also has a mandate to become carbon neutral in the next few years, so it’s very advanced,” he says.