High School Utilising Total Quality Management to Drive Sustainability and Slash Waste Management Costs

Project Summary

Like many high schools across Australia, Marsden State High School had a number of issues with litter, waste management and morale within the Cleaning team. Sick leave rates were very high and there were dozens of Workplace Injuries within the Cleaning team each year.

Excellent Outcomes at a Glance

  • Waste removal costs slashed by 85%
  • Contaminated recycling rates reduced from 50% to 2%
  • 30% reduction in sick leave
  • $22,000  annual saving in labour waste

Something had to be done and the school decided to work with Brett Robb, a recognised expert in recycling and Total Quality Management (TQM). Brett introduced an innovative idea and that was to bring the principals of Total Quality Management into the school environment, something that had not been done previously.

The results have been impressive, the schools monthly waste management bill has been slashed from around $4,000 per month to around $500 per month, by removing recyclable items from the general waste. Now they are separating their drink containers, paper and steel products, the school is able to recycle these items and get paid! They are making around $1,000 per month on recycling. Sick leave and injury rates within the cleaning team have drastically declined and they have made productivity improvements that save around $22,000 per annum.

Lastly, many students have fully embraced the program and volunteer their time regularly. These students are learning valuable skills that make them job ready and safety aware. Litter in the school has dramatically reduced and has almost been eliminated in high visibility areas.

Cultural Change

In order to bring about the cultural changes that were needed within the Cleaning Team, some analysis was performed to identify the deeply ingrained issues. Total Quality Management tools were used to diagnose the problems and uncover solutions.

The cleaning team attended training and learnt to use tools like Value Stream Mapping and Root Cause Analysis to identify problems. During the training, team members were given a voice to discuss their concerns and empowered with the tools they needed to own the issues and be part of the solution. Although difficult at times, the process transformed the team and created a united culture.

Many of the Cleaning team are now thoroughly committed and accountable for the work they do, they are proud of the value they add to the school. They are no longer invisible to the students, in fact, they are often thanked by the students who regularly volunteer to help around the school.

Teachers have noticed the transformation and have asked: “What has happened to them as they seem so happy?”

Results in the cleaning team have been impressive, sick leave has been reduced by 30%. Cleaners are more engaged in school life, their jobs are easier and injuries rates have drastically declined. “In the past year, the school has seen an 80% reduction in lost time due to injury,” said Mr Robb.

Early results

After a few months, they were able to halve the amount of waste going to landfill and improved the contaminated recycling rates from 50% to 2%.

The project team were invited to present their impressive results to the school staff and that generated a great deal of interest from a number of departments keen to participate.

School uses Total Quality Management with Success

Total Quality Management at Marsden State High School

Continual Improvement from Total Quality Management drives results

Eager to continue to drive improvements and deliver results, the next phase of the project was launched and students were invited to participate. Over 50 students volunteered and visual tools were used to continually eliminate waste.

A rapid improvement workshop was conducted and a processing facility was built with the help of the Trade Centre, who provided 8 hours of labour to assist with construction. This facility is now called the Sustainability Skills Centre and is used to develop the skills of students and visitors.

Since it began hundreds of children within the school have attended lessons at the centre and increased their knowledge around Total Quality Management and the importance of sustainability and recycling. Building on their knowledge has helped to increase interest and awareness in the project and directly impacted the amount of litter within the school.

Time Savings

Using Spaghetti Diagrams to analyse the process of emptying the schools 90 rubbish bins, the team uncovered an enormous amount of wasted time. Cleaners were pushing wheelie bins back and forth to a skip bin in order to empty them daily. The school grounds are not flat and Queensland weather can be very hot, which meant the process was quite arduous and time-consuming.

The diagrams made it easy to see the wasted effort involved in emptying the bins. An innovative solution was developed that comprised of building a trailer in the School’s Trade Centre and using a disused ride-on lawnmower to tow it. Each day the cleaner collects the bins on the trailer, takes them to be emptied and returns them on the trailer. It’s a much safer and more enjoyable solution for staff and has shaved 6 hours from the previous time taken to empty bins. This saving alone represented $22,000 per year in wasted labour costs.

Money Saving

All waste is now processed through the centre and separated into different value streams to divert it from going into landfill. “We now manage to divert around 80% into recycling transforming their monthly waste bill from around $4,000 down to $556 this past month,” said Mr Robb.

The QLD government recently announced a container refund scheme which pays a 10 cent refund for empty beverage containers. Because drink bottles are sorted into their value stream it was easy for the school to make money from their recycled drink bottles. The school’s recycled paper and steel are also sold.

The Sustainability Skills Centre is now taking rubbish that was going to landfill and selling those products. It has transformed waste from being a cost into a profitable enterprise. In the last month, they made around $1,000 on recycling alone!

“It’s really hard to see a downside with this, it’s truly amazing,” said Amanda Chamberlain, Business Manager, Marsden State High School. “Safety has improved dramatically, we haven’t had an injury all year, sick leave is way down and so are costs.”


The students really enjoy coming to the Sustainability Skills Centre. A team of students from the special education unit run the project from the student perspective, they are known as the “A-Team”. This team of students have been trained on the principals of Total Quality Management as well as Work Health and Safety and regularly volunteer their time at the centre. “The students understand the centre and its processes so well that they are able to induct new volunteers and perform tours of the facility,” said Mr Robb.

Students are an important part of the project, it’s not just about reducing waste and saving costs. The project is developing students that are job ready, with a safety focus and a strong work ethic and who understand how to save money. “Not all students are academically inclined and plan on attending university, many want to gain experience in the classroom that will give them job-ready skills and that’s what this program delivers,” said Mr Robb.

External Interest

There has been a significant amount of interest from Government Ministers, the media and other schools. After being approached by so many schools they decided to organise a sustainability forum. Over 45 people from local schools attended the event in order to find out how they could achieve similar results. “We are thrilled to be able to inspire other schools to operate in a more sustainable way, the financial benefits and job-ready skills that the students gain make it a powerful program,” said Andrew Peach, Executive Principal.

The Sustainability Skills Centre has been designed and built to be a training facility. The goal is to inspire others and provide them with the “know how” to achieve these results at their school. They will do this by providing training in the Total Quality Management principles and practices that will deliver Sustainability in our schools. Training Teachers, Cleaners, Facilities Staff and Students will build awareness and help to create a sustainable state for all Queenslanders.

For more information on how you can achieve these impressive results, please click here to contact us.