Recycling: Educating Your Children To Respect the Planet

Recycling: Educating Your Children To Respect the Planet
By James Mullan
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Recycling is regarded as a bit of a “nerdy” thing to do, the prerogative of the well-off, a harmless indulgence of the middle-classes that they might just as well get on with. Most schools, astonishingly, subscribe to these views too. If they choose to pay at least lip-service to the “idea” behind recycling, they display a few recycling bins around the premises, carefully labelled. An inspection of these quickly reveals that they are not correctly used. Is that a surprise? Of course not. Neither is it in any way unpredictable, that at the end of the day even these inadequate attempts at recycling get tipped into the general rubbish collection by cleaners who do not know otherwise. Recycling and preserving planetary resources starts with education. Every person needs to be educated. Recycling, in the form it exists today, has not been around long - few people really “know” how to do it. We are all learning now. Every step gained – with a new paper recycling plant, for example – is an achievement. Saying that “there is no real recycling done in Dubai” and using that as an excuse not to educate children nonetheless, is a mistake. It starts with education. That of children, as well as of adults. Recycling is not just about separating plastic and paper, or aluminium or glass. It is not merely emailing homework for parents to print out at home. (That merely shifts the cost and the responsibility to parents, often resulting in an even greater waste of paper and ink.) Recycling is a commitment to wasting little to preserve resources, ours and our shared planet’s. Children have to understand that, from throwing half their yoghurt away because they do not “feel like it,” to replacing their phone for another model because that is “so cool,” every action affects the planet, frequently resulting in unnecessary waste. Once the awareness is there, incentives can be put in place to encourage people. The waste around us the world over is tremendous. The amount of unnecessary packaging, generated by consumer corporations looking to boost sales with attractive presentation, is outrageous. How is this going to change without the understanding and knowledge? We all have to do it. But acquiring the knowledge has to come first. Steps to help children towards greater awareness:

  • Talk about the resources of the planet and how they are used with your children. Young children do understand many complex issues when put simply. Explain how resources can run out. Explain about unnecessary waste.
  • Purchase 4 separate, easy to empty containers. Mark them as: glass, plastic, paper and card, aluminium. Teach your family and home helpers to separate the rubbish. Plastic needs to be rinsed and flattened before collecting, so that it takes up less room. Invest in a sturdy can crusher and crush all cans before adding. With careful separating, you will dramatically reduce the volume of household rubbish you generate.
  • Take the recycling to a collection centre. Do not make separate trips to it; connect this to a trip you are already making. While unloading the recycling do not keep your engine running.
  • Explain about the environmental impact of replacing rather than repairing things. That is a valuable lesson in terms of cost, the environment and also better care of possessions all in one.
  • Plastic bags used for bread, for instance, can be reused as sandwich bags when small bags are needed.
  • Try not to include lots of plastic containers in lunch boxes. Use washable containers. Buy big cartons of yoghurt and decant.
  • Teach children to turn off lights as they leave rooms. Acquire the habit of turning off most electrical equipment at the mains at night. That way the standby facility, which still uses up a large amount of electricity, is disabled.
  • Explain to your children about Earth Hour. Make it into a family activity – play a board game by candle light. That will be a far more powerful lesson (as well as a lovely memory) than many lectures on the subject.
  • Explain to all the family about the necessity of keeping the refrigerator door open for the shortest possible time. Not only does this ensure that the entire contents of the fridge do not warm up a few degrees each time; it also saves electricity by ensuring that the fridge does not need to use even more electricity in bringing the interior temperature back to the optimal after each opening.
  • Operate air-conditioning at the lowest pleasant temperature. Encourage offices and workplaces to do this also. If people start needing jumpers indoors, clearly electricity is being wasted.
  • Operate both washing machines and dishwashers only when they are full.
  • Do not use a drier in this climate.
  • Teach children to turn off the taps while “brushing for 2 minutes”. Teach all the family to keep showers long and waste as little water as possible when trying to adjust the temperature of the water.
  • Do not hose down garden paths every day. Once a week may be necessary, but even then, do not use the water jet to do the clearing away of debris. Sweep instead. Please explain this to gardeners as well.
These are some of the many steps that may be taken to start a family on the way. It will take time and you will meet many sceptics on the way, but the rest of the world will, eventually, catch up with you! Agnes Holly has worked for more than 25 years in education ranging from university to nursery, and everything in-between.  She is a qualified SEN teacher and has worked extensively with children who have dyslexia and ADHD.  She has additional practical experience in the form of five of her own children aged between 6 and 23.  

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