Teach children to value the environment - and their own futures

Teaching our kids to put rubbish in the bin should be one of the first civic responsible things we teach them.
Teach children to value the environment - and their own futures

Mayor of Cork County Cllr Gillian Coughlan with Méabh Hennessy, Principal, Scoil Phádraig Naofa, Bandon and 2nd Class students at the launch of the County Cork Picker Pals school programme in Scoil Phádraig Naofa, Bandon. Picture: Darragh Kane

IT is - or should be - one of the first civic responsibility lessons that small children learn from their parents. It’s very simple. You put your rubbish, be it a crisps bag or sweet wrapping, in the bin.

If you can’t see a bin (and there should probably be more of them), then you bring the garbage home and dump it in a domestic bin.

To my shame, I didn’t reprimand a group of teenage girls who, one evening during the summer, left sheets of chipper wrapper paper with bits of food on the ground in my local park.

Disgusted by the sight of scavenging crows swooping on the rubbish, I silently cursed the girls for being so inconsiderate. Are you supposed to approach strangers when they do something like this? Or do we just shrug our shoulders and wait for the council cleaners to clean up the mess? The message might be driven home that littering is anti-social if we pointed out our defaced streets and parks to rubbish offenders. But I wimped out.

However, an innovative national programme, now in its second year, targets school children to help tackle our litter problem. Schools throughout County Cork are taking part in what’s called the ‘Picker Pals’ programme. With support from Cork County Council and the department of the environment, climate and communications, nearly 100 classrooms across County Cork will be involved in this year’s programme. It was relaunched at Scoil Phádraig Naofa in Bandon last week.

The programme is run by the Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment and it aims to motivate youngsters to become young environmentalists by supplying them with Picker Packs containing everything children need to go litter-picking. It will no doubt give children a leadership role in litter-picking, inspiring them to be anti-litter throughout their lives, passing the message onto their children.

From just ten County Cork schools taking part in the campaign last year, there are almost 100 schools now taking part in the Cork region.

Using recycled and fully reusable packaging, Picker Pals provide each classroom with bespoke story and activity books in both English and Irish. Each child goes on a litter picking adventure in their local area with their family. They report back to their classmates on their activity. Think of how the children’s observational abilities will be tested on their expeditions. That’s just one off-shoot of working to look after the environment.

Mayor fo Cork County Cllr Gillian Coughlan and Patrick Jackson, Creator of the Picker Pals Programme with 2nd Class pupils Victor Stepaneuk, Danylo Boichuk and Tiago Araujo at the launch of the County Cork Picker Pals school programme in Scoil Phádraig Naofa, Bandon. Picture:  Darragh Kane
Mayor fo Cork County Cllr Gillian Coughlan and Patrick Jackson, Creator of the Picker Pals Programme with 2nd Class pupils Victor Stepaneuk, Danylo Boichuk and Tiago Araujo at the launch of the County Cork Picker Pals school programme in Scoil Phádraig Naofa, Bandon. Picture:  Darragh Kane

Children’s book author and creator of the Picker Pals programme, Peter Jackson said: “If we can influence children at this key age, we have a chance of tackling the litter crisis. Picker Pals creates a positive mindset in children and families around the issue of litter and their own power to make a difference.”

Picker Pals’ ultimate goal is to run the programme in every one of the 3,240 primary schools in Ireland - and around the world. 

The idea is to create a generation of young environmentalists. And it’s being done in a fun way.

But garbage is a serious matter. In the old days - which are not that long ago - households dumped all their rubbish in a big aluminium bin. Everything including cinders from the fire, stale bread and nappies were fired into the one container, to be taken away by the bin men. It was a case of out of sight, out of mind. We didn’t question the destination of the junk.

Now, many households have four bins and the rubbish is used for different purposes. The contents of the brown bin are used for anerobic digestion (a sequence of processes by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen.) This process is used for industrial or domestic purposes to manage waste or to produce fuels. The contents of 10% of brown bins are sent to anerobic digesters in Ireland and the UK where methane gas is extracted and turned into electricity fed into the grid. The residual material is used by farmers to spread on their land as an organic alternative to nitrogen fertilisers. This cuts down on the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere from this source. And you thought the brown bin was just a stinky receptacle of stuff left over from peeling or cooking? All the refuse bins have a function. The recycling bin is where you dump plastic. It is recycled and it is now more valuable than virgin plastic.

Encouraging children to take care of the environment is an investment in the future. Why not give a child the job of disposing junk in the correct bins at home? For a small fee, a way of earning pocket money. With so much anxiety in children cause by an overload of bad environmental news, give them some agency in their future.

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