Consumerism, Education, Waste Systems & Recycling — by Anthea Hudson July 3, 2012
Our Role as Facilitators
Having been a home educator for nearly 18 years, I have become aware of the value of hands-on experiences for helping children learn and really understand concepts — experiences that are relevant to their lives and help prepare them for a real future, in much more than just academic ways.
We as parents, or educators, can help children explore the concepts and skills they will need to develop to equip them for the very different future they will no doubt be facing. Often our role will just be to be there and help with materials and tips if needed. A lot of the value of these discoveries is in allowing children to experiment, make ‘mistakes’ now and then, and to find workable solutions. I think we should try to curb the natural desire to solve the problems which may occur, immediately, and give the children a chance to sort it out themselves first.
The activities in this article, and those in following parts of this series, are designed to get kids involved with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of creating a more resilient lifestyle and understanding how the things in our world connect and how we can all help these connections to flow naturally. In Part I we will look at various aspects of recycling.
One of the principles of permaculture is that nothing should go to waste… everything should be part of the cycle… the natural flow. That is a very difficult thing to achieve in every aspect of our modern lives, however there are lots of ways we can recycle, as well as lessen the waste we produce.
There is of course the normal recycling practices in which the children can be involved on a daily basis, but there are lots of other ways you can help change how they view the materials that pass through their lives.
Landfill — Our Dirty Legacy
Let’s begin by understanding a bit about how long the things we send to landfill last, before they break down.
Have a look at the list below and see if you can guess the order these items should be placed in, from the things that break down quickest, to those that take the longest. Then have a guess as to how long you think each one will take to break down.
- paper bag
- plastic jug
- cigarette butt
- glass bottle or jar
- aluminium can (soft drink can)
- leather boot or shoe
- plastic 6-pack rings
- Styrofoam cup
- cotton pillowcase
- rubber sole of the leather boot (above)
- wool sock or scarf
- tin can (e.g. baked beans or soup can)
Don’t cheat by looking at the answers below, until you have made your own list.
Here is what scientists predict for these items:
- banana — 3 to 4 weeks
- paper bag — 1 month
- cotton pillowcase — 5 months
- wool sock — 1 year
- cigarette butt — 2 to 5 years
- leather boot — 40 to 50 years
- rubber sole — 50 to 80 years
- tin can — 80 to 100 years
- aluminium can — 200 to 500 years
- plastic 6-pack rings — 450 years
- plastic jug — 1 million years
- Styrofoam cup — unknown? forever?
- glass bottle — unknown? forever?
As you can see, some of the things we throw away may never break down in the landfill! Many of these can be recycled, so we can help lessen what remains in our landfills by making sure we recycle items that can be and by purchasing as little as possible of those things that are packed in non-recyclable packaging.
A New Purpose
Rather than being thrown away, or into the recycling bin, some things can be ‘recycled’ right at home, or school, etc., by giving them a new purpose. The activities below give a few ideas for this… but don’t limit yourself to just these ideas. The possibilities are almost endless!
Milk Bottle Igloo
Empty plastic milk bottles, soft drink bottles or juice bottles can be used to create fun structures, such as ‘igloos’ or cubby houses.
Step 1: Collecting
Get all your friends and family involved with collecting bottles for this project. For a decent size structure you will probably need several hundred bottles. The igloo in the video below took approximately 400. Make sure they are properly cleaned. Also, you will need the lids in place, as the air trapped inside gives your bottle ‘bricks’ strength.
You also need large pieces of heavy cardboard for the base — fridge and other large appliance boxes are ideal for this.
Step 2: Planning
Decide how big your structure should be. This will depend on how many bottles you can collect and how many people you want to be able to fit inside. Do you want to be able to lay down in it, or just sit?
Lay your cardboard out, taped together if there is more than one piece, and draw the outline of your igloo or cubby base shape. If you wish to make it circular, attach a pencil to a piece of string (length equal to the radius of the circle you require — plus a bit extra for tying) and to an object which can either be glued or stabbed through the centre point of the circle. Pull the string tight and your pencil should be in the correct place for drawing your outer circle.
Lay bottles around this line, side by side, lids pointing in to the centre of the structure, to work out how many the base layer will need. Don’t forget to leave ample room for a doorway. When you get to upper levels, the top over the door will also need filling in.
Next, work out how many layers high you want to make it. For an igloo, the first several layers just taper up very slightly, so may only use one or two less bottles per layer. The upper layers will start to slope in more, so each of those layers will use even less bottles. If you wish to make a covered entryway tunnel, allow bottles for this too. Make approximate calculations as to how many you should need. It’s wise to have a few spares on hand, for calculation shortfalls or other problems.
Step 3: Construction
You will need a high heat hot glue gun, and its glue sticks (lots!), for the next step. Several would actually be handy, so that more than one person can work on it at once.
Warning: supervise handling of glue guns at all times and don’t allow very young children to do this.
Glue the bottles in pairs with the handles facing each other (for bottles with handles). Hold in place to allow the glue to set, for about a minute.
Next, glue two pairs together, at the upper part of the side, so a slight curvature forms. You now have bottles in groups of four. Glue four to the cardboard, then another four to both the cardboard and to the four next to it, around the circle on the cardboard. Continue this all the way around, remembering to leave an ample doorway.
On the next level, indent inwards very slightly, following a similar procedure as before. Continue this upwards, making the upper layers more indented inwards, until you curve right over, making the roof. Don’t forget to fill in across doorway part way up, and then to run out a short entry tunnel, if desired.
This video is an excellent example of creating a milk bottle igloo, and well worth watching to clarify the above instructions.
Milk Bottle Boat or Raft
This is similar to the activity above, but the creation is a floatable boat or raft made out of milk bottles, or cartons, etc. Adelaide, South Australia used to hold a yearly ‘Milk Carton Regatta’, where milk carton boats were raced on the River Torrens. Bottles or cartons can be taped (strong tape, all the way round, so it won’t easily just come off in water) or glued together to form a kind of pontoon, which is then attached to a light top, such as plywood or a strong plastic sheeting, for the boat or raft. Experiment and see if you can make one that will float with you in it… or you and a friend.
This is a good activity if you have a swimming pool. Please ensure safety precautions are undertaken and adequate supervision is provided at all times while children are in water.
Create a caterpillar that grows ‘hair’!
Get an old pair of pantyhose, or a stocking. It doesn’t matter if it has a run or small holes, but try to use the best part for your caterpillar. Cut off a section of the leg, using the toe as one end, or tying off one end if the toe isn’t useable. Using a spoon, or your hand, put some potting mix, or fairly fine sawdust, into the end of the stocking. If you roll back most of the stocking, and just unroll as needed, it will make it easier to reach the area you need to. Add a teaspoon of wheat (or similar easy growing) seeds and twist the stocking between this and the next section, to make a rounded ‘bobbly’ body section. Repeat along the stocking leg, making more body sections. When you have made it as long as you wish, tie off. Draw a face on your caterpillar if you like. Lay the caterpillar on a long planter ‘saucer’ or other long dish and sit it in a warm sunny position. Water well. Keep moist, but not sopping wet, every day. The seeds will sprout and grow up through the stocking, giving your caterpillar hair.
Bad Hair Day!
You can also make a ‘Grass Head’ by creating a head-like ball of stocking, filled with potting mix or sawdust with seeds at the top. Draw on a face. The head will then sprout hair as the seeds grow.
Save some of the seeds from the flowers and veggies you grow, or buy some if you don’t have any. You can then use various ‘waste’ materials as biodegradable seedling pots. Toilet rolls, cut down milk cartons, egg cartons and egg shells are a few possibilities. Make small drainage holes in the bottom of your ‘pot’ (except for toilet rolls, which have no base), add potting mix or soil, and then plant the seeds as recommended. Once ready, these can then be planted, as is, directly into the soil. The pots will gradually biodegrade and become part of the soil.
Lots of larger objects can be turned into pots for flowers or veggies, such as tyres for potato towers or a surround for a tree or flowers, holey watering cans, buckets, wheelbarrows, half barrels, clean empty drums and paint cans, baskets, stained or cracked plastic containers… even old coffee mugs can be used to grow something!
Some people are incredibly resourceful when it comes to reusing things to grow plants in. Check out the marvellous pictures here. People have used old shoes, rubber boots, handbags, jeans, wooden pallets, soft drink and juice bottles, among other clever ideas!
A Few More Ideas…
Use unwanted old computer software or music CDs to make invitations to a musical theme birthday party by writing the details on the side with no printing.
Join CDs together with coloured string or strong thread to make a wall hanging or decorative room screen.
Use old socks as hand puppets.
Make Christmas bonbons out of toilet rolls or cut foil/wrap rolls. Fill with whatever you like, then wrap bonbon style.
Old pieces of candle can be melted down and used to make new candles, such as beautiful ice candles. Molten wax can also be used in artwork to create an interesting effect. Brush the wax on to paper in the places you don’t want paint to appear, and then paint the picture. The wax will stop the colour from getting through to the paper. If you don’t want the wax to remain after, you can carefully scrape at least most of it off once it’s cold, if you are careful.
Unwanted bits and pieces such as springs, cogs, wheels, old clocks and windup toys, etc., can form an ‘invention box for when you are feeling inventive’. What marvellous contraptions can you make from this? Make sure items are safe and appropriate for the ages and abilities of the children involved.
Second Time Around
Many things are too good to just throw away, so why not give them a second chance to do their job? Help children understand the value of their things — not just look at them as disposable, unless they are beyond use.
Get the kids — and big kids — to gather up things they no longer want or need, such as toys they’ve outgrown, clothes that will no longer fit anyone in the house, things that no longer fit your simpler lifestyle, etc.
There are several good ways to find new homes for your items.
Online groups such as Freecycle and Free n Cheap are good outlets for your stuff. Just Google them to find your local chapter. With Freecycle, all your items must be given away for free. Free n Cheap allows small charges to be made — or free!
Charity thrift shops, or their donation bins, are another option. Your kids can get the satisfaction of knowing they are helping a worthy cause as well as finding new homes for their things.
Have a garage sale! The kids can even make a little bit of money out of this, which could be used for other projects such as buying seeds or seedlings to plant, or a family ‘pick your own’ outing to a produce farm.
Sell unwanted items at a Trash n Treasure market, fair, or car boot sale.
If you live in an area which has a deposit refund system for cans and bottles, you can not only help recycle, but make a bit of pocket money from it too. Research what items have a refundable deposit and make sure you don’t just throw those in with your normal recycling. You can also collect cans and bottles that other people leave behind in parks, shopping centres, or other locations and cash those in too. Make sure you aren’t breaking any laws in your area by doing this, and use gloves and maybe some tongs to grab them with, for safety reasons.
Although not precisely recycling, the less waste your family makes, the less resources you use and the lower your eco ‘footprint’ will be.
Get your children involved with working out ways that you can save on waste creation. This might include:
- Choosing brands that use less packaging or more easily recycled packaging.
- Buying bigger containers of an item and decanting off into your own smaller containers if necessary.
- Doing much more cooking from scratch using fresh, unpackaged produce, rather than pre-packaged processed foods — much healthier too!
- Using both sides of a piece of paper where possible.
- Consciously deciding how much of a product to use, rather than just doing so without thinking and often using more than is necessary.
- Buying from bulk bins/containers for things such as food, personal products and cleaning fluids, rather than pre-packaged versions.
- Taking your own bottles and containers to fill at a bulk supply store.
Allow children to become responsible for one or more of these waste minimising measures, or appoint a ‘waste’ monitor to oversee all possible waste saving possibilities. Each child could hold this position for a week, or a month, and then swap, so that they all get a turn. You will probably find that the monitor becomes quite good at recognising better options, which will stand them in good stead in the future when they have their own household to run.
Composting is the ultimate in recycling. Your food scraps can follow their natural cycle of returning to the soil. Taking part in this process is a great project for kids and will help them understand the natural processes of nature.
The kids might like to ask friends, relatives and neighbours for their food and small garden scraps too. They could even start up a neighbourhood scrap collection, from anyone who doesn’t wish to compost themselves.
Talk to your kids about what’s going on, every step of the way.
Either buy a pre-made compost bin, or design and build one of your own, preferably using recycled materials where possible.
Once some of your compost is ready, let the children add it to the garden, maybe digging it into a new area and then planting that space.
Homemade composter from recycled railway sleepers
Caring for living creatures helps children understand the important part animals play in the natural cycle of ‘recycling’ plant material into fertile soil. It also helps them develop a deeper respect for living things.
Worms are brilliant recyclers! In a healthy, vibrant garden you should be able to show worms at work to your children.
Another great idea is to let them start their own worm farm. Make sure that you have the right conditions and the time to care for them properly though, before embarking on this project.
You can buy pre-made worm farms, or if you want to deepen the experience, let your children design and build their own worm farm. This can lead to research into what worm farm worms need and the learning of basic construction skills. Make sure you fill it with proper compost worms — regular garden worms don’t usually do well in a worm farm.
Your kids can also research what worms like to eat… and what they shouldn’t eat. Then it’s part of their job to feed the worms and take care of their needs, such as those for moisture and a tolerable temperature. They can also siphon off the ‘worm water’ and use it to make ‘worm tea’ for the garden.
Rabbits and Guinea Pigs
These appealing little animals are great recyclers of appropriate food scraps, weeds, hay and excess grass. They eat a lot! Not only that, but they convert it into wonderful manure for your compost heap. They are lovely pets too, if treated properly, especially for older children (although they don’t like to be picked up), so make sure your children give them lots of attention and company.
Chickens and Ducks
Chickens and ducks will also help recycle scraps, as well as help ‘recycle’ unwanted pests in your garden. Their manure can also be added to the compost heap. For those of you who eat eggs, there’s an added benefit to keeping these creatures. Once again, only begin a project involving living creatures if you have the time and facilities to do so.
It’s important to make relevant conversation part of your every day routine. Discuss with your children what’s happening around you and why you are doing things. Ask them questions and welcome their questions too. Encourage them to delve into natural processes and see the connections in their world. Instil in them the habit of making recycling, in all its forms, as well as a conscious attempt to lessen waste, a part of their lives from a very early age and it will hopefully be a habit that stays with them for the rest of their lives.
Continue on to Part II.
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