You know those horrifying videos of sea life dying from ingesting huge amounts of plastic (they're all over Facebook)? I show Lexi these videos.
Here's why I have chosen to show her what are sometimes graphic videos.
Her mindset around consumerism has changed (for the better) and at just 5 years of age she considers her choices and actions. When we go out she often makes sure I have her stainless steel or bamboo straw. On the rare occasion we go to the shops she checks if we have our own shopping bags. And lately she has become aware of taking our own water bottles and take away coffee cups.
These may seem like very adult things that a child shouldn't have to worry about. However, we need to make our children aware from a young age. Plastic is everywhere!
In a recent speech, Theresa May called plastic waste “one of the great environmental scourges of our time” and said that in the UK alone they generate enough single-use plastic waste to fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls every year. (You can read more here)
Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute. Less than 50% of those bags are used once and then thrown away. (22 Preposterous Facts About Plastic Pollution)
Here's how we can teach our kids about recycling:
Composting is one of the easiest ways to start recycling. You'd be amazed how much can be composted. Lexi is great about putting scraps in the compost bucket and hasn't taken long to learn what can and can't be composted. We use this composting bucket from Earth Probiotic. It uses bokashi bran, which means you end up with a brilliant fertilizer from the juices and little / no smell. Bokashi bran is available from Faithful to Nature and Lifestyle Garden Centre and is very reasonably priced.
If you're not sure at first about what to put in the compost bin print one of these infographics and keep it handy (ours is next to our bins in the kitchen).
Recycling at home is super simple and can be made fun for children. We bought these colour coded recycling bins from Mr Price Home. However, if you don't have the space or budget you can turn this into a craft project and let the kids decorate and colour code smaller bins yourself.
There are still items that can't be composted or recycled (like polystyrene and clingwrap). Rather than throwing these into a plastic garbage bag, try using brown paper bags instead. I have also tried lining the bin with newspaper and found it worked well and was easy to fold into a neat parcel for the garbage.
We use a company called EcoMonkey for our recycling. They collect our recycling once every fortnight which means minimal effort for us. EcoMonkey suits our budget and needs perfectly. There are a few other companies in Joburg that offer a similar service, alternatively a Google search will help you identify recycling companies in your area.
Take Your Own
We don't just mean shopping bags here! If your child like drinking from a straw it is worthwhile investing in bamboo and stainless steel.
Another huge contributor to plastic waste is takeaway cups. We parents often request takeaway / paper cups to prevent spills. Not only are the the plastic lids bad for the environment but the cups themselves are not 100% paper. They also have a thin lining of polyethylene that prevents them from leaking or getting soggy. The plastic coating means that the cups can’t be easily recycled and there is also the danger of toxic chemicals releasing into your drink. Also, think about all the trees that are cut just to make these cups.
Look For Hidden Plastics
Shocked by the plastic in paper cups? Wait till you see what other products contain hidden plastics!
Do you use facewash, soap, laundry detergent, toothpaste etc. that contains microbeads? These microbeads are extremely harmful to the environment. They are so tiny that they can't be filtered by water treatment plants and end up contaminating marine life.
You thought your teabags are paper, right? Wrong! Teabags are only 80% paper and have plastic fibre woven into them to strengthen the teabags.
Did you know that your fleece jacket was once plastic? Surprising, isn’t it? In many cases, the plastic fabric, or fleece as it is called, is made from recycled plastic bottles. The plastic bottles are first shredded and melted at a high temperature. The liquid plastic is then mixed with other materials and is passed through a metal disk with tiny holes (called spinneret). When the liquid cools, it hardens to become thread which is spun into fabric for making fleece jackets.
Toys (and Crockery)
My personal pet hate is Kinder eggs. How long do your children really play with the toys? What happens to all that plastic? I realise that this one is probably harder to eliminate (we still get the odd Kinder egg). I have explained to Lexi that they contribute to plastic waste and these days she rarely asks for them. She's usually happy to settle for another small chocolate instead.
Faithful to Nature has a wonderful range of environmentally friendly toys. You could also visit your local market where you'll find beautiful, handcrafted toys (and what's better than supporting local?!).
When Lexi was small we used cheap, plastic Ikea crockery and cutlery for her. We have since swopped to environmentally friendly bamboo. Not only is it healthier to reduce your child's exposure to plastic, but it is kinder to the environment. We love the bamboo plates from Little Lollo (pictured below).
This is the fun part! Most kids learn the catch phrase "Reduce Recycle Reuse" at school but it helps to reinforce this at home, not only by leading by example, but with cute videos and songs.
Lexi's two favourite videos on YouTube are:
There are also some great kid's books about recycling. Tidy by Emily Gravett (R209 on TakeALot) is a favourite of Lexi's! It's not about recycling but it opened up a discussion about preserving the environment and consequences of not looking after the environment.
We can also educate ourselves and learn how to read labels. The infographic below is another handy one to keep at hand. Both Lexi and I have become very conscious of product packaging. We adore Munching Mongoose because the majority of the products they send are packaged in paper which we reuse for our garbage.