By Cathy Taylor
This year’s Earth Day, on Sunday, April 22, is focusing on a theme familiar to readers of EcoWise: ending plastic pollution. In fact, Earth Day organizers want it gone by 2020, which, not coincidentally, is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
That’s not a lot of time to rid the world of a scourge that’s poisoning our environment. So we’d like to take this column to urge local educators to incorporate lessons about it into Climate Education Week, which begins on Monday, April 16 and ends on Earth Day. Earthday.org has interactive educational toolkits for elementary school, middle school and high school, but if you can’t work plastic pollution into the curriculum that week, the lessons can be helpful at any time.
First, let’s discuss why there is such urgency about plastic – and specifically single-use plastics, such as straws and plastic bags.
Even though some plastic is recyclable, plastic pollution has become a global crisis because it doesn’t degrade and much of it makes its way – eternally — into the environment. Once there, it poisons and injures animals, particularly in the oceans; disrupts human hormones; litters our landscapes, and clogs landfills. According to a story last month in The New York Times, the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, “is four to 16 times bigger than previously thought, occupying an area roughly four times the size of California and comprising an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of rubbish.” The vast majority of it is plastic, from hard hats to water bottles.
Here are some of the suggestions for educators at earthday.org. (Check out the site to figure out what is age appropriate.)
- Have your class list all of the plastics they use, and then have students brainstorm a about ways of shortening the list.
- Take a quick field trip to one of the neighborhood storm drains to illustrate how plastic travels down them and ends in waterways.
- Watch a short film, such as the PBS video featuring Jean-Michel Cousteau’s trip to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or a National Geographic video that discusses the connection between plastic pollution and the foods that we eat.
- Hold a low-waste lunch day.
- Test the recycling IQ of your students – before and after they’ve learned more about plastic pollution.
- Teach the class about composting, which is a great jumping off point for discussing decomposition and the nutrient cycle.
- Focus a lesson on microplastics, which are what larger plastics become when they break down in our oceans.
There are also plenty of resources at the site if you’d like to help your family end plastic pollution, such as a calculator for adding up your household’s plastic pollution, and suggestions for alternatives. Let’s all celebrate the earth on April 22 — and every day, for that matter.