Inspire kids to reduce, reuse and recycle
Marianne Stenger :
Australia has just had its hottest summer on record and global carbon emissions have reached an all-time high. Every year, millions of tons of waste are being dumped into landfills and contributing to climate change and marine pollution.
The good news, as we've seen from school climate change protests staged around the world, is that kids do care about the future of our planet and want to effect change.
Research published in the Journal of Marketing shows that consumers recycle more when they think about how their waste can be transformed into new products. So one thing we can do to help kids become part of the solution to the global waste problem is show them that, when properly recycled, waste can be turned into a valuable resource.
Here are a few ideas for teaching kids about the importance of reusing and recycling - and inspiring them to get involved in whatever ways they can.
1. Conduct a waste audit
Conducting a waste audit is a great way to highlight the global waste crisis and kickstart meaningful changes at home and school. Start by asking kids to think about the things they throw away on a daily basis. Could any of those items be reused, recycled or avoided entirely?
After you've reviewed your local recycling guidelines together, gather one day's worth of rubbish from your classroom and empty it on a tarp. Ask your students to sort it into separate piles based on the category of waste it belongs to, such as paper, glass, plastic and so on.
What type of waste makes up most of the rubbish? Were there any items there that could have been reused or should have been recycled rather than thrown away?
One school dramatically reduced the amount of waste it was sending to landfills by changing its bin system. (Chapter 8, War on Waste digibook)
2. Design your own recycling bin graphics
Once you've helped kids connect their everyday actions to environmental outcomes, it's time to start working on solutions. Research published in the Journal of Environmental Education shows that something as simple as using emoticons on bins can encourage kids to recycle more.
With this in mind, it can be fun to have your students design their own recycling bin graphics. You can divide the class into groups and have each one think of a clear way to illustrate a different type of waste. Their designs can then be turned into stickers for the classroom's recycling bins.
3. Start a composting program
One excellent way to demonstrate that waste can be turned into a valuable resource is to start your own composting program at school.
Start by explaining that when food waste goes to landfills, it rots and becomes a source of methane and contributes to global warming. You can then look at how properly composting food waste helps it break down naturally and become fertiliser, which feeds the plants and improves the soil.
Next, you can discuss as a group the steps you will need to take to start your own basic composting program at school. For instance, will you need to build or purchase a bin? How will you get all the food waste from your school to the bin? How will the compost be maintained?
Food waste can be valuable, but at the moment more than 5 million tonnes of food in Australia goes to landfills. (Chapter 6, War on Waste digibook)
4. Encourage creativity
We need creative solutions to the global waste problem, so think of some recycling and upcycling projects that will encourage students to think outside the box.
For example, you can ask children to think of a new use for an item they would have otherwise thrown away, whether it's an old t-shirt, shoebox or plastic bottle. Or perhaps you could identify some key problems with our current waste disposal system and then divide the classroom into groups to come up with some creative solutions.
Each group of students could also design an informational poster showing the importance of recycling, which can then be hung up around the school.
Students at Lane Cove Public School turned fashion-waste into reusable bags. This helped them raise money to buy recycling bins for the school.
5. Turn it into a challenge
There's nothing kids love more than a challenge, so if you want to get them excited about recycling, think of some ideas for introducing a little competition.
For example, you could implement a plastic-free challenge, where the whole class tries to avoid all single-use plastic for a week or even a whole month. After the agreed upon period of time is up, you can discuss how it went and write down your findings. Was it difficult to avoid plastic completely? What did students learn from this exercise?