A local teenager is determined to tackle the “boat load” of plastic waste binned daily at her school in Wanstead.

Zalayka Azam, 17, has written an “environmental exposé” about Wanstead High School, criticising its use of single-use plastics and a lack of recycling of food waste or rubbish in the playground.

Zalayka, who joined the mixed-gender comprehensive school last year, sent the letter to Redbridge Council’s chief executive, asking for help changing what she felt were “wilfully ignorant” practices around waste.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Zalayka said she feels disturbed by the “boat load of plastic” and food waste from the cafeteria being put into regular bins.

She said: “Mostly the plastic is coming students’ own waste when they have breaks but also from the cafeteria. They don’t use any bamboo cutlery, it’s all disposable plastic.

“The school were even quite strange when I suggested recycling bins, they didn’t really consider it. They just said no one would collect the recycling, I didn’t really understand why.”

Zalayka said she felt her concerns had been “dismissed” so wrote to the council’s new chief executive Claire Symonds “months ago” but has not received a reply at the time of publication.

She wrote: “I expressed my opinions to one of the teachers in charge of the environmental committee on some issues I had with the excessive use of plastic, the response I received was that any other alternatives such as wooden cutlery was ‘too expensive’ and ‘not in the budget’.

“As much as I respect the fact that the school may not have enough money to supply an alternative, I would argue that perhaps even the slightest change in the school may educate the students about sustainability.”

Wanstead High School’s business manager Sarah Williams said the school is proud of Zalayka for being an advocate for environmental issues and that it “values and listens” to the students

She added: “As with all schools, we are a work in progress and continually strive to review and improve practices which support the best outcomes for our pupils.”

The school is understood to have water bottle refilling stations but still sells bottled water because the practice of bringing in reusable bottles isn’t “embedded”.

New headteacher Emma Hillman, who starts in September, has already sent out a survey which will “help inform the school development plan”, including a review of waste disposal and catering. 

A Redbridge Council spokesperson said it was “grateful” to Zalayka for raising her concerns and that it will “discuss” the issues she raised with the new headteacher.

Redbridge Council currently collects mixed recycling items made of glass, plastic or paper, but will not offer any food waste collection until 2027 at the earliest, which is when east London’s waste disposal contract expires.

The most recent government figures estimate that the borough’s household waste recycling rate has dropped from a peak of 33% in 2010/11 to 25% in 2019/20. 

The majority of non-recycled waste collected in Redbridge is dried out and transported outside east London, where it is burnt to produce electricity.