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You are here: Home Resources Nature and Society, Journal of the Frank Fenner Foundation 2003 Nature & Society - October/November 2003

Nature & Society - October/November 2003

The Forum's Journal

Where would we be without trust? In an economic mess according to a new branch of economics, neuroeconomics. In the New Scientist (10 May 03) researchers wrote of the games they get subjects to play, to see whether participants are trusting and trustworthy. They found that half the players were trusting and that three quarters of those trusted showed they were trustworthy, to the ultimate economic benefit of both parties. Conventional economic theory would have expected players to make decisions in their own self interest, not allowing for what seems to be an inbuilt desire to trust and an even stronger desire to be trustworthy.

The idea of trust in economics could cause the same puzzlement that altruistic behaviour between animals has stirred up among evolutionary biologists. The latter have called on the idea of kin selection, arguing that helping near relatives, such as siblings or cousins, can enable more of the helper�s genes to prosper. However, there is a problem with this in that there are even some cases where animals help non-relatives.

In the case of trust neuroeconomists are not calling on genes but on hormones. They think oxytocin may be behind the phenomenon of trust. Oxytocin is a reproductive hormone, important in birth, lactation, bonding with offspring and also pair bonding. Oxytocin production is triggered by pleasant experiences and has a wide ranging role in the nervous system.

Whether hormones are involved in trust can be experimented with and argued over, but the important thing for society is that people get pleasure from being trustworthy. They also get pleasure from altruism and this is good news for society in general.

Trust levels vary significantly between countries and this has an economic impact. Norwegians display the highest level of trust, 65% compared with 5% in Brazil. Countries with a trust level less than 30%, which includes many of those in South America and Africa, risk falling into a suspicion-locked poverty trap. Within a country like the USA different areas have different levels of trust. Interestingly the areas with the highest level of trust are the ones with the highest proportion of the population being of Scandinavian descent.

Although this seems quite clear and reasonable it is not the whole story. A later New Scientist (21 June 03) reported a quite different study. This time a group of social psychologists wanted to find out which cities had the most helpful and friendly citizens. Researchers visited 23 cities and pretended they needed help: they acted as though they were blind, lame or just plain clumsy. Although Rio de Janeiro is one of the most violent cities in the world, with a high crime rate, its residents were the most helpful to strangers in need. Indeed helpfulness was more common in Latin America than anywhere else. The least friendly cites were Kuala Lumpur, New York, Singapore and Amsterdam. Helpfulness seemed to have a negative correlation with high population density and a fast pace of life. But there was not a perfect match. Vienna and Copenhagen were helpful although fast.

One would think that helpfulness and trustworthiness would be linked, so these two studies seem to have produced conflicting results. Social psychologists and neuroeconomists may well have many arguments ahead of them. The important thing for us, though, is to know that both helpfulness and trustworthiness are normal human characteristics a good deal of the time, which is much better than having to argue over how innately aggressive humans are.

In the absence of definitive proof, at least we can all agree that the neuroeconomists prescription for increasing trust would be a good guide for all government policies. Their recommendation for achieving a trusting and trustworthy society is as follows. Ensure independent media, transparency in policy-making, and the rule of law, with equal access to courts and equal accountability. Provide universal education, clean water and environment and public health measures. Strengthen social ties, reduce poverty, promote breast feeding and smaller families. Encourage volunteering, and (somehow) get the population to eat a healthy diet, emphasising green vegetables and legumes.

If governments could be persuaded that these measures will not only increase trustworthiness but will also improve economic performance then maybe they will reverse the cost cutting of recent times and realise that these social goals provide a firm basis for every society. Maybe they could also see that by helping poorer countries to achieve these same goals, then governments could considerably reduce their spending on the military. The money saved could go towards all these beneficial goals and the world would be more peaceful.


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Forthcoming NSF meetings

19 November

- Alex Barlow, �Staying young, growing old�

Alex Barlow will be talking about his book that is currently being edited for publication.

Other events of interest

ISOS November Conference

A one day face to face conference, bringing together the ideas of contributing experts will be held at the Shine Dome of the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra on November 14. Registration for this is $60, through the website. It is hoped to publish a small booklet giving an integrated perspective of the sustainability contributions early in 2004.


NSF moved to its new accommodation on October 20, 2003. We will be located in the South West Wing, Weston Primary School, Hilder Street, Weston, 2611. The November monthly meeting will be held at our new premises.

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SHINE: Sustainability happening in Education

An initiative of Vanessa Whelan of Wastewise Schools Program has seen the growth of a network of people involved in educating about sustainability in schools and the wider community. Most are education or communication officers of ACT government departments, who are keen to share and to coordinate about what is happening in various school and community environmental education programs.

Wendy Rainbird has been representing the Australian National Centre for Sustainability and the Nature and Society Forum at their meetings. Peter Ottessen, the Director of the ACT Office of Sustainability came to the meeting on 24th September, and said he was very excited to hear that the SHINE Network exists, as education is a key function in delivering on the guiding principles in, �People Place Prosperity : a policy for sustainability in the ACT�.

Increasing numbers of local governments across Australia are beginning to face the challenges about really delivering on sustainability issues.

Our challenge in the ACT and across Australia is how to increase public awareness and community engagement in achieving the changes needed for decisions which incorporate ecological sustainablility issues, and to help communities and governments to keep sustainability issues always as key components of decisions and developments.

Wendy Rainbird, Convenor of the Education Working Group, ANCS.

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Microbial dimensions to sustainability - Walter Jehne

On my half dozen visits to Fraser Island over the last 40 years I have never ceased wonder at the biological richness and natural beauty of the place. Notwithstanding the pathetic attempt at sand mine rehabilitation at the southern end of the island, the growing numbers of four wheel drive vehicles racing up and down the beach and the miscellaneous incidents with the dingoes, the grandeur of the remaining stands of rain forest and the pristine freshwater lakes of the interior remain as stunning as they have for eons. It is peaceful in there, and the richness of the relatively undisturbed ecosystems is fascinating.

It was not until Walter Jehne gave a talk at Nature and Society Forum that I realised what an extraordinary place it is. I had long known that Fraser Island is made up of sand that had drifted northwards after the last ice age through wind and ocean currents and rising sea levels. I had read how some of the pristine fresh water lakes were lenses in delicate balance with the salt water all around the island, and some of the raised ones were held in place through some sort of �membrane�. What had not occurred to me until Walter�s talk was how rain forest can flourish in soils comprising pure sand.

Where were the nutrients and the soil organisms? OK so the rainfall was higher than other parts of the coast but this would serve to leach out what little nutrient might have been blown in. How did it get started? Intuitively, watering large piles of shifting sand for a few thousand years, even with the addition of wind blown nutrients, does not seem a productive way to start. Besides there are those other sand islands further south like Morton, North and South Stradbroke and Bribie Islands that have similar rainfalls but differ markedly from each other in the type of vegetation cover.

Walter, a former research scientist with CSIRO, did not set out to address such questions. He was interested in the way root hairs can take up water and nutrients that they come into contact with. He and his colleagues wondered about the pumping action of trees. It has been known for a long time that trees transpire vast quantities of water that has been ultimately taken in through the roots, but even if the millions of root hairs are taken into account, they do not seem adequate to explain this extraordinary take up rate.

The answer, Walter explained, is due to a symbiotic relationship between plants and certain species of mycorrhizal fungi. These colonize the root zone of plants (the rhizosphere) and send out enormously long filaments through decomposing material which give fungi the chemical energy that supports their acticities. Plants, through their leaf litter, fallen branches and eventual death feed the fungi, which in turn frees up the nutrients for recycling to the plants. The fungi not only make the nutrients available, they deliver them to living plants through these filaments. This symbiotic relationship then enables plants to draw in water and nutrients over a far larger area and far more efficiently than if they depended solely on the reach of their root hairs.

But what was even more amazing to me was the speed at which all this happens. In one of his studies Walter and his colleagues used a nutrient which contained a radioactive isotope. As Walter put it, after pouring this on the ground at litter level, they hardly had time to climb the tree with their Geiger counters, before traces of the isotope were detected in the canopy.

This suggests that rainforests (which have long been known to thrive in areas with poor quality soils) recycle nutrients very quickly and highly efficiently and that the mycorrhizal fungi are a key to this recycling process.

Following his work with CSIRO Walter went on to work as an adviser on innovation in the Industry portfolio, but his fascination with plant ecology early in his career is clearly stirring again, as he puts some of the implications of this research into practice on his Braidwood property as he enters the next phase of his interesting career.

John Schooneveldt

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Journal feedback

Dear Ms Wanless,
I am writing in response to the article titled Fisher Parkiand published in the August/September 2003 issue of Nature & Society.

I am advised that the parkland is frequently used by the public and that since the fires access is no longer confined to tracks as a result of the greater accessibility to areas cleared by the fire. The tree-removal activities undertaken therefore needed to strike a balance between addressing real public-safety concerns and protecting the environmental values of the site.

The article includes a number of emotive remarks regarding the activities that were undertaken in the remnant area, and 1 would like to take this opportunity to detail the actions and events that occurred at Fisher Parkland.

I am satisfied that officers of Canberra Urban Parks and Places (CTJPP) undertook a very co-operative approach with Landcare members through numerous site visits leading up to and during the tree-removal program. Prior to on-ground activities, CUPP officers and Landcare members identified eleven zones for which zone-specific operational guidelines were developed. Flagging tape and spray marker paint were issued to, and used by, Landcare members to identify sensitive sites and trees. As works progressed and new issues arose, they were addressed in a spirit of co-operation and consultation with the Landcare Group. All guidelines sought to balance the requirements and policies of the Department of Urban Services and the wishes of the community.

In particular, this approach resulted in special consideration being given to the Eucalyptus dives remnant referred to in the article. Immediately before the commencement of tree-cutting activities, a CUPP officer and Landcare members inspected the remnant site and agreed on guidelines, which were subsequently followed between 18 and 20 June 2003 such that:


  • No machinery entered the site. Chainsaw operators conducted all work on foot.
  • Trees with any epicormic shoots were not felled, with the exception of one very unsafe specimen.
  • Trees without epicormic or lignotuber shoots were cut at ground level or to a height of approximately one metre (to retain a portion of standing dead wood for habitat purposes).
  • Operators were asked to take special care not to damage shoots sprouting from the lignotubers of otherwise dead trees.
  • All cut trees and branches were dropped and left in situ to serve as habitat. None were chipped or removed from the area.
  • Dead trees that were assessed as potentially hazardous were felled. Numerous dead trees not considered to be hazardous were retained.

Officers of CUPP advise that these tailored activities, whilst resulting in some modification, in no way brought about the destruction or damage of the remnant. It was the intention from the outset to minimise the extent and impact of works, and it was therefore decided to consult with the community at a local level rather than the public at large.

An on-site meeting was held on 6 August 2003 to discuss the future management of the parkland. This meeting was organised by CUPP officers, who invited representatives of the Fisher Landcare Group, Friends of Grasslands and the Australian Native Plant Society. The attendees were given maps and guidelines for preparing an action plan for the site. We look forward to receiving the feedback from these groups in order to be able to implement their recommendations in the future management of the site.

The ACT Government is committed to the effective management of our natural environment and will continue to manage this and other sites in accordance with best management practices and principles as recommended in the draft Lowland Woodland Action Plan.

Yours sincerely
Jon Stanhope MLA
Chief Minister
26th September, 2003

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"Our Water Future Beyond the Drought and Water Restrictions".

Even without the drought, major water issues have been developing for the ACT. On current population projections, and if we do not reduce water usage by at least 20%, then the ACT might need to build a new dam by 2020.

The ACT Government wants to avoid that option if at all possible. p> The Community Summit on 27th August brought together almost 200 people representing Aboriginal people, the environment, CRC for Freshwater Ecology, relevant ACT Government Departments or Agencies like Environment ACT, ACTPLA, and ACTEW, as well as people from industry and from education.

Among points raised by Maxine Cooper of Environment ACT was the need for individuals to take action to reduce demand from about 300L / day to 215L / day or less. �The community needs sustained reduction�.

It is estimated that population growth in Canberra and the region will possibly peak at 460,000 over the next 50 years. This could be more if fast transport links occur between Canberra and Sydney.

Other water use options include the reuse of treated effluent, which is being started for northside sportsgrounds, and has the potential for watering all that green grass in the Parliamentary Triangle.

Barry Starr presented a grim picture of the decade or so needed for the vegetation regeneration within our main Cotter Bendora-Corin catchment. The severity of the January bushfires, plus storms has led to the most extreme and massive erosion ever seen in his 30 years experience.

He thought the way forward was to continue the good science being done, combined with applying such knowledge to sound management practices, even in the Namadgi National Park, and that community support was important.

Grace Mitchell of �Urban Design and Sustainable Water Management� spoke about the need to change from the 19th Century linear approach of urban water use: dams- big pipes- reticulated to users-wastewater-rivers.

Rather we need to have sustainability as the driver, and look at the total Urban Water Cycle. We must re-use high quality drinking water in various ways, and alter the effects and use of wastewater from impervious surfaces.

We need to use rainwater tanks for toilet water, or for washing machines then into gardens. We could use street-scale stormwater harvesting into swales in public open spaces, or filtered to improve outflow quality. We can use more efficient appliances, and adopt more efficient practices, and reticulation.

Developers could be required to have an approach that works on precincts for solar orientation of dwellings, for water flow efficiencies, dual-pipe reticulation for drinking quality water and re-used water; for grass swales to water open spaces, and bio retention systems.

There are cost issues, health issues and flood protection to be considered.

Other speakers raised issues of climate change with the ACT likely to be drier but experiencing more storms.The reduced runoff into catchments therefore means a serious need to reduce demand.

Stuart White of the Institute for Sustainable Futures referred to Regulations:for appliance standards, for performance contracts, for developers� contracts, and water use restrictions. Incentives could include rebates, pricing buy-backs and help with retrofitting. He also said that the Information Education aspect which involves community engagement, can have a system of monitoring high water users and then helping them to make the necessary changes. He said that it has been found that follow up is very important for changes in behaviour to be sustained.

The workshops at the Community Summit dealt with Water Supply options, and the various pros and cons of different options; the pros and cons of different Demand Management options; and Government programs.

The 19 or 20 working groups had differences of course, but with few considering the building of more dams as a good option. Although there was discussion of the raising of Cotter Dam wall option, and the piping, only as a backup, of water from Tantangara Dam. The effects on the already stressed Murray River was a problem in that regard.

The streaming of water quality into different uses and reuses was discussed: on- site rainwater from the roof for toilets, washing machines, gardens; and from paved surfaces like roads, paths, driveways for parks or gardens. The use of greywater for toilets, or gardens with the need to stop using high salt & high phosphate laundry powders, and to beware of lint clogging irrigation systems. The use of treated effluent blackwater for irrigation of urban open spaces including sports grounds, and for agriculture as in the vineyards near Holt. The high cost and community acceptance were problems perceived with the use of treated effluent to be piped back to the Cotter catchment.

Appliances like AAA flow-restricted shower heads, front -loading washing machines, dual- flush toilets, tap-flow restrictors can all make a big difference to our present water consumption rates.

Garden plants which require less water, use of mulching and drip irrigation, and water flow in landscaping design were mentioned.

Other aspects of Demand Management discussed in the groups were Restrictions, Regulations, Incentives and Education.

Environment ACT will publish the speakers� papers on their website, and a report on the Community Summit in a few weeks, possibly by mid-October. Their website is

Wendy Rainbird, Convenor of the Education Working Group of the Australian National Centre forSustainability 27th August 2003

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ACT No Waste School's Program

Increasing numbers of ACT Schools are becoming involved in the ACT NOWaste Schools Program. The Education officer is Vanessa Whelan who has set up and running the NOWaste Program at Farrer Primary School, and is now extending the program.

Many schools have been recycling waste for years, but the NOWaste Program goes much further. Farrer Primary School recycles lots of waste including food scraps for worm farms, and for a compost area beside their Environment Centre and garden. Students grow food in the garden. Other schools have hens to feed on food scraps too.

Vanessa has instigated bringing together other Education officers in various sections, like Air, Water, Heritage, to form a network called SHINE: Sustainability In Education.

She has used the Victorian Schools� NOWaste Program, which has been very successful there, and is about to be called �Sustainable Schools�. There are opportunites to discuss more sustainable school building designs, which would be more comfortable than some recently built modern ones, with no eaves, hot sun blazing directly on to students and their work, stifling classrooms in summer, and lots of heating required in winter.

The Education Working Group of the Australian National Centre for Sustainability and the Nature & Society Forum supports these actions, and Wendy Rainbird is keeping in contact with Vanessa.

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Birrigai Environment Education And Outdoor Centre

The January 2003 Bushfires destroyed Birrigai�s Resources Centre, the Administration centre, the kitchen, the water supply, the electricity supply and sewerage pump, the paths and steps, and severe burning of the vegetation. Some of the higher ridges with their granite rocks and boulders may be unsafe for extended times, as the rocks are exfoliating in large slabs. By July, 2003, the water supply, sewerage system, electicity and landscaping had been restored at Birrigai.

The Birrigai Principal and staff have been discussing with an architect about �practising what they preach� and having environmentally friendly designs for the re-built buildings.

Birrigai staff have developed Environment Education programs at the Jerrabomberra Wetlands at Dairy Flat and at the National Botanic Gardens. As there have been 296 day-visit bookings to their programs for Semester 2, 2003, their staffing has been brought back to pre-fire levels.

There have been responses from ACT Schools to a SWOT analysis to the Birrigai programs, and there has been the Birrigai Community Forum, where there was input from David Eastburn, John Harris and Wendy Rainbird in planning, and follow-up. David and John gave presentations, and so another audience heard of the proposed Australian National Centre for Sustainability. Also,they were small-group facilitators for the discussions. Wendy sent a paper on �Values, Beliefs and Principles for best practice in Environment Education�, and is the ANCS liaison person with Birrigai staff.

The Earth Charter Learning Exchange website has a paragraph about Birrigai as an example of high quality environmental education programs.

Wendy Rainbird, ANB Board member, and Convenor of the Education Working Group.


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Books by NSF Members

Gone Whaling - Stumbling towards Sustainability by Graham Chittleborough. Published by the Jaycees Community Foundation Inc.

Gone Whaling gives an interesting account of the realities of life on Western Australian whaling ships and around the whaling stations in the three decades following World War II.

The last two chapters deal with wider sustainability issues, arguing from Graham�s personal knowledge of whaling as an unsustainable activity, at least as it was practised. As we now know, that is true for most of humankind�s application of marine life, and a great deal of what goes on on land, too.

Graham Chittleborough has been an untiring advocate for the need to change our ways before we damage the world irreversibly.

Other books published by NSF members in 2003 are:

  • Janis Birkeland - Design for sustainability
  • Duncan Brown - Feed or feed-back
  • Doug Cocks - Deep futures

�Because human consciousness is a recent development we are still an adolescent species, particularly in terms of our need for immediate gratification, our need for authority in our lives and our susceptibility to turbulent emotions�.

Doug Cocks on Ockham�s Razor 31 Aug 03

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Annual General Meetings

The Nature and Society Forum Annual General Meeting and the Australian National Biocentre Annual General Meeting were held on September 17th, 2003 at the CIT Weston Campus.

A short video titled �The Lower Murrumbidgeee Flood Country� was screened after the NSF meeting had concluded. This documentary highlighted the impacts of lack of water security on the ecology and organic farming of the Lower Murrumbidgee Flood Plain, and the struggle of local residents over the last century.

Nature and Society Forum

The NSF Management Committee for 2003/2004 are listed below:

Co-ordinator -David Eastburn
Deputy Co-ordinator - Wendy Rainbird
Secretary - Jenny Wanless
Treasurer - Alice Thompson
Committee Members - Rory Eames, John Schooneveldt, Andrew Chalken & Dierk von Behrens.

Australian National Biocentre

The ANB Board Members for 2003/2004 are: President - (Temporarily vacant)
Vice President - John Harris & Val Brown
Secretary - (Vacant)
Treasurer - (Vacant)
Board Members - John Reid, Tracy Bunda, Rob Gourlay, Wendy Rainbird, David Eastburn, John Schooneveldt, Gerry Gillespie, Janis Birkeland & Brenday Mackey.

Brendan Mackey has been temporarily appointed interim President of the Australian National Biocentre.

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The Fruit Book

Patricia Shanley, an ethnobotanist with the Center for International Forest Research, wanted to give something back to the people of the Rio Capim area in Brazil, after they had helped her to study their land and its ecology. In a study during 1993-4 thirty families weighed everything they used from the forest - game, fruit, fibre, medical plants � and documented its source. Another study was done after logging sales and a major fire in 1997. The fire had a particularly severe impact on forest production. Per family, average consumption of fruit for a year dropped from 89 to 28 kg, fibre collected declined from twenty to four kilos and only about a twelfth as much game was caught.

Using information from the study Shanley produced Fruitiferas e Plantas Uteis na Vida Amazonica, commonly known as the �The Fruit Book�, with information on 35 native forest species. The book is a blend of hard science and local knowledge. It has cartoon-like drawings, recipes and jokes. It is a book to be used by illiterate people, who are encouraged to copy it or pass on information by word of mouth. The locals are now much better able to negotiate with loggers, say no, or just sell their less valuable trees. In many cases they know they can make more money selling fruit than by selling trees.

New Scientist 19 July 03

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Book for Afghan Children

Monash Science Centre director Patricia Vickers-Rich has written and produced �Animals of the World�, a book for Afghan children. The book emphasises animals native to Afghanistan, with text in Dari, Pashto and English, with maps showing where the animals live. It can be used to teach geography, science, language and to have a good time.

Everything from artwork to transport has been donated or provided at cost. The book comes in a multi-purpose bag containing colouring pencils provided by Staedtler, and three quarters of the packs contain a magnifying glass and ruler donated by National Geographic.

The first print run of 5000 is to go to refugee children in camps. Funds are being sought to extend the program. Donations are tax deductible and can be sent to

Work is underway on Russian and Spanish versions, the latter to go to poor areas of Argentina. An Iraqi version may also be produced.

Australasian Science July 03

Frog Fungus

A fungus has been blamed for the decline or demise of frog populations in many areas around the globe, but where did it come from? Probably from Africa, say some herpetologists who have noted that African amphibians are not suffering the same fate as populations elsewhere.

The suspicion is that African frogs, exported widely in earlier decades for use in pregnancy tests, could have carried the fungus with them. The fungus could then have spread more widely with frogs travelling inadvertently. It is not at all unusual to find frogs hidden in bunches of bananas delivered to markets or exported. Frogs found are usually released locally, providing a suitable vector for any frog disease.

Catalyst, ACT TV 21 August 03

Compensating for Carbon

The Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting has a web-based tree carbon calculator ( It can tell you how much carbon is stored in a tree, based on species and the trunk�s circumference. The site also shows the carbon emission from various activities.

To compensate for a return flight between Melbourne and Sydney you need 14 trees with a circumference of 20 cm. To offset one year�s driving in a family sedan you need a tree of 166 cm girth. So you should get planting well in advance, and of course ensure that the trees survive.

Australasian Science July 03

Coral Decline

Coral reefs of the Caribbean are down to the last ten per cent of the hard coral species that created them. This is a decline from fifty per cent 25 years ago. These reefs have provided a livelihood for millions of people and physical protection for islands and coastal areas from tropical storms, so their decline threatens fishing, tourism and safety.

The decline is probably due to a mixture of natural and human causes. A hurricane in 1980 damaged the Jamaican reefs. They were subsequently smothered by toxic algae when disease killed off a common sea urchin that normally grazed on the reefs.

Other reefs in the area have been damaged by fishing, sewage pollution, cruise ships and divers, soil washing in from deforested areas and record high temperatures.

Some of the reefs show recolonisation by soft corals, but these corals do not build new reefs.

Across the globe a red tide killed 400 km of reef off Sumatra. Smoke from the Indonesian fires deposited nutrients in the water, triggering algae bloom, which used up the oxygen in the water and so killed coral organisms and fish.

New Scientist 26 July and 23 Aug 03

Recycling Plastic Bags

All film plastics (eg; bread bags, glad wrap, grocery shopping bags and other plastic shopping like DJ�s and Grace Brothers) can all be placed in the recycling collection bin at Coles and Woolworths supermarkets throughout Canberra only.

They cannot be placed in the domestic collection system because:

  1. They contaminate the paper
  2. People will then think they can wrap their recyclables in a plastic bag before placing in the recycling bin
  3. Because they weigh so little, it is not economically viable to collect them at kerbside as they take the space of more valuable materials.

Therefore you could arrange for these to be collected in your school and have someone collect them and place them in those bins for recycling. A good website with more information is

Recycling Paper with Paint on it

Yes, you can recycle paper with paint on it as the paint is washed off during the recycling process.

Hope you�re having fun being Waste Wise!

Vanessa Whelan, Education Officer

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