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Inspired Insights: Talking Trash

One 2017 study published in the Journal of Science Advances points out that 8.3 billion metric tons (9.1 billion tons*) of plastic have been produced in the past 60 years or so, resulting in 6.3 billion metric tons (6.9 billion tons*) of plastic waste. Only 9 percent of that has been recycled. The other 91 percent ends up in landfills.

These statistics don’t matter to the youngest members of our community at Inspired Teaching Demonstration School. What does matter to them however, is how we regularly manage our waste. Last week I asked my prekindergarten class what we could do with our empty milk cartons. Within thirty seconds I got these creative responses:
“A planter.”
“A seed collector.”
“A puppet.”
“A basket.”
“A parachute.”
As a result of this discussion, the class immediately designated a recycling crate for our empty milk cartons. This sparked a host of questions about which containers could go into the crate. Instantly we, as a class, started to rethink the way we dispose of things!
“What about the paper that we’ve used, can we recycle that too?” queried another student.

I responded, “Sure, we can use it to make our own paper!”

There was, then, even more excitement at the prospect of using old paper to design a new product!

Environmental stewardship is one of the big ideas that we wish to cultivate among the very young. Not only do they have a natural excitement and curiosity about their environment, but they are eager to care for it as well.

This was modeled well for me, as a young person, by my grandfather. I watched him sort and save old newspapers, cardboard and glass bottles. Each month he piled these materials in his pick up truck and took them to a recycling spot where he actually got money for these recycled materials. As a result, recycling became a way of life for me.

So now, where are we on the earth stewardship spectrum? What more can we do? Are we truly listening and supporting our children in sustaining earth friendly practices?
Recycling can become a fun family affair and a worthy endeavor. Many communities even offer summer camps and family programming. Check your local community center, newspaper, or internet browser for ideas and resources to support your young environmentalist.
*The U.S. ton is the short ton which is 2000 pounds. The metric ton is equal to 1000 kilograms, or approximately 2204 pounds.