Creating a long-lasting world for our kids and future generations has become more important than ever before. Landfills are filling up, the ocean is drowning in plastic and fauna and flora species are dropping like flies. We don't want to live in a world where our children don't know what certain animals look like because they're extinct. It has become a necessity to be more environmentally-friendly and a good way to start is by teaching our children how to go green and why. We've come up with some ways you can teach your children about the environment in some fun and interactive ways.
It is important to have a conversation with your kids about what items in your house are made out of and what happens to those items when they are no longer being used. Start by discussing paper, plastic, organic material, glass and metal. Talk about how they are produced and disposed of, as well as alternative options for these items.
After discussing this with them, why not do a little experiment? After all, children learn through doing, so an experiment can help them understand. This is a simple experiment. Choose a spot in your garden or fill a large plant pot with soil. Divide the soil into several sections. Then bury items in the separate sections. Fill one with an organic item such as fruit peels, egg shells or a mix. In other sections, bury a piece of metal or foil, a piece of glass, paper and a piece of plastic. Then cover with soil and water the soil. A few weeks later, dig up the items and let the kids evaluate them.
After the experiment, it is time to do a scientific evaluation of your findings, as with all experiments. Depending on how long you left the items buried, you should see change in the organic matter and paper. Either it will be completely gone or it would have started to decompose. The metal, glass and plastic will still be the same, albeit dirty. From this experiment, we can see that organic matter and paper degrade quickly, whereas glass, metal and plastic don't. This is a good time to explain to your children how long it takes for some of the materials we use on a day-to-day basis to biodegrade and about the 3 Rs - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Landfills are filling up too quickly and the best way to combat this is to reduce the usage of products that do not degrade quickly such as plastic, which can take thousands of years to decompose. Unfortunately, in today's society, it is almost impossible to live a plastic-free life. The trick is to avoid using single-use plastic and to cut it out completely where possible. Go through your house with your children and see where you can make changes. You could use reusable Tupperware instead of sandwich bags, buy some metal straws or purchase a canvas bag for your shopping instead of using plastic ones.
It's great to teach children that some items can be reused instead of just thrown away. This can be a good opportunity to spark your children's creativity, by making them think of ways to reuse things. They can do this by reusing items like bottles, newspaper and cans for their school assignments or making their own projects at home. Kids can also learn to donate their unwanted stuff like clothes and toys instead of throwing them away or keeping them in a box at the top of the cupboard to gather dust. Another way to reduce and reuse is to buy items intended for reuse such as rechargeable batteries.
As we learnt in the experiment, some items like glass and metal take a long time to biodegrade. But, these can be recycled or up-cycled instead of landing up in a landfill. Recycling can seem a bit tedious but can be made into a family activity by getting your children involved. Simply get separate bins or containers for plastic, paper, metal and glass. The children can then sort through the items you want to recycle and put them in the correct bins. Some items, such as jars, may have parts that need to go into separate bins. The jars would be recycled with the glass, whereas the lid will be recycled with metal.
Joburg has a unique waste removal system in the form of people who go through rubbish and collect items to take to recycling facilities. You can make life easier for these nifty entrepreneurs by leaving out your recyclable materials. Alternatively, you can arrange for recycling companies to come collect the materials themselves. They will give you a bag for your paper, glass or a mixed-use bag and come collect in your area on certain days of the week.
To find these facilities, read this Recycling 101 guide.