Are we sufficiently covering the issue of the growing problem of plastic waste by teaching children to recycle? When we look at the full picture about plastic waste and its impact on the environment, recycling is only a small part of the solution. Children, when they understand the full impact of plastic pollution, can really drive the movement to reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce in our daily lives. They do, after all, have a future invested in a clean world with healthy eco systems.
Recycle bins are a fairly standard feature at schools these days, and there are some great programs out there teaching children about plastic waste and its impact on the environment. Unfortunately the main angle of the curriculum is around recycling as a solution to the problem.
Why not just recycling?
Different plastics have different recycling rates. Just because it has the symbol on it, doesn’t mean it can always be recycled locally. And just because you put your plastic in the recycling, doesn’t mean that it is actually being recycled.
The other problem with plastic recycling is that it is not technically recycling. i.e a plastic bottle does not get made into another plastic bottle. It is actually down cycled into a lower grade product, for example fabrics, rugs, benches etc which will eventually end up in a landfill at best – as there is nowhere else for it to go.
Teaching Children about reducing the amount of plastic they use
While it is better to recycle plastic than not, the best thing a child can learn to do is reduce the amount of plastic they consume. It is important for us to teach children to become discerning consumers.
Teach them to choose toys that come with less packaging. To choose wooden and metal toys that can be recycled or composted.
We can lead by example by showing them how to shop for loose fruit and vegetables and refusing to buy products that are over packaged or packaged in something that cannot be recycled.
Teaching Children to reuse plastic items
We can teach children how, with a little creativity, things have value. Plastic containers can be used for storage, creative projects, growing plants and may other exciting things. This book and this site contains some very beautiful ideas to turn plastic items into toys. Perhaps give a handmade recycled birthday gift to a friend?
Teaching children about plastic alternatives
One of the teaching programs we found online used the slogan. “Be fantastic don’t use plastic”
Teach children about Bagasse and other plant based plastics. When you get your next meal in a compostable container, keep it and use it to plant seedlings in and then plant it in the ground and let the children watch it biodegrade into soil. Perhaps even plant a bit of plastic next door so they can see the difference.
Teach them about Mushrooms as a plastic alternative. Show them pictures of how Mycellium can be used a a styrofoam replacement.
Teaching children about alternatives to plastic is an essential part of any waste based curriculum. Encourage them to ask for the alternatives. Let them play and experiment with the materials. Let them grow their own mushroom roots, they are the inventors of the future. We need to show them about the possibility of plastic free existence.
Our children are the next generation of thinkers and actioners. It’s important to teach them that plastic alternatives are a reality so that they are thinking about using them as a possibility in their school projects and in life.
The benefits of raising awareness in children
Children are full of fresh ideas and energy. They naturally love and care about the environment. Here are some inspiring stories about children who are taking action and making an impact.
This teenager is busy working on a project to clean plastic out the oceans.
This teenager is working on a catalyst to turn plastic into oil.
Have you met Activist Abby, a girl who has really done amazing work raising awareness about plastic bags and calling for them to be banned? She currently has above 5000 facebook followers.