5 Activities To Reduce Plastic Usage

How can you teach your child to be sensitive towards the environment? From taking up a global challenge to going on a plastic hunt, help your child become eco-conscious through these fun activities.

By Maya Martens

5 Activities To Reduce Plastic Usage

Here are some serious facts to ponder over: Almost half of the plastics produced globally are disposable plastics designed for single-use. This means they are used once and then thrown away, creating large amounts of waste. For example, disposable plastic bags take less than one second to make, are used for 12-20 minutes, but last thousands of years! Every year, we use a trillion plastic bags worldwide. For each minute you spend reading this article, two million more plastic bags are produced!

On World Environment Day, if you want your child to understand the scale of plastic pollution, begin by telling her some facts:

  • Disposable plastics have a huge impact on animals and the environment. Many disposable plastics such as cups, plates, cutlery, straws and takeaway food packaging are used to store, serve and eat food. Most of these are not recycled as they are of poor quality and are often dirty with food.
  • Plastics end up in open dumps or pollute the environment and negatively impact animals. Animals such as cows, dogs and birds smell the leftover food in plastic packaging and end up eating the plastic by accident. For example, a cow in India was found to have 70 kilos of plastic clogging its rumen (stomach).
  • Many disposable plastic items get washed into waterways and end up in the oceans. A study, Emerging Issues in Our Global Environment, Plastic Debris in the Ocean found that disposable cups, plates, forks, knives, spoons and straws were among the top 10 plastic items found in plastic ocean debris. Scientists estimate that 90 per cent of seabirds around the world have eaten plastics.
  • Plastics do not biodegrade or magically go away. In the ocean, plastic is exposed to water, sunlight and the physical movement of the waves, and it breaks down into small pieces called microplastics. Dangerous pollutants such as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) attach themselves to microplastics.
  • Microplastics also get covered in algae which makes these toxic small pieces of plastic smell and look like food for marine life. Zooplankton, fish and shrimp often mistake microplastics for food and eat them by mistake absorbing the toxic POPs into their body. These toxins then move up to food chain and can end up affecting us. If we do not change our habits, studies estimate that plastics will outnumber fish in the ocean by 2050.

But there is a lot parents can do to educate their children about the harmful effects of plastic. Here are five ways in which you can teach your child to combat plastic pollution:

1. Plastic-free July

We learn best from our experiences. Join a fantastic global challenge to reduce the use of disposable plastics. Sign up for a day or whole month; focus on specific disposable plastics or challenge yourself to say no to all disposable plastics! This experience for your family is guaranteed to change the way you think and use plastics! For more information check http://www.plasticfreejuly.org.

2. The ‘bad plastic’ family hunt

As a family, join forces in a treasure hunt with a difference. Investigate your own home and search for unsafe or disposable plastics. Go through your kitchen cupboards, bathroom, bedroom and pantry. Search for the resin codes and pick up any ‘unsafe’ plastic. Remember that the codes 7,6 and 3 are not good for you and me. Collect plastic items which you use just once (disposable plastics) as these contribute massively to plastic pollution.

Make two piles of plastic (unsafe and disposable) on your dining room table and as a family brainstorm on how you can replace these items with plastic-free alternatives.

3. Zero plastic waste birthday

Start small but make it a habit to protect the planet from plastic pollution. Celebrate your next birthday with a party that does not pollute the planet for the next 1,000 years with plastic you can easily avoid. Choose reusable tableware (ceramic, stainless steel or glass). Challenge yourself to make your birthday all about having fun and not creating pollution!

4. Water taste challenge

Did you know that bottled water is 1,000 to 2,800 times more expensive than tap water? Or that producing and transporting a 1-litre plastic water bottle releases a hundred times more greenhouse gases than 1-litre of tap water?

Take the water taste challenge and see if you can taste the difference between bottled water and tap water. Get a member or friend to blindfold you, eat something sweet or salty, and then take a sip of water from two different sources (bottled water and filtered water). Try to guess which one is bottled water and which is the tap/filtered water source. Did you get it right? If not, then it is not surprising as bottled water is in fact just glorified tap water and thousands of people who have done the same test could not tell the difference either!

5. Microbeads test

Microbeads are small round pieces of plastic that are added to personal care products and cosmetics including scrubs, face wash, shower gel and shampoos. They are flushed down the drains and eventually end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans.

Check for microbeads that have snuck into your bathroom without you and your family knowing it. Take a scrub or shower gel with microbeads that you find in your bathroom. Mix two tablespoons of this in a glass of water and stir it well. Pour the water through a black T-shirt, filtering the microbeads out. Feel the microbeads and as a family make a conscious choice to avoid this hidden type of plastic pollution. You can also search for microbead-free products on www.beatthemicrobead.org.

These activities provide both adults and children an opportunity to learn about the impact of plastics on our environment and inspire them to make an eco-friendly choice.

The author is a key member of the WasteLess team and the lead in content development for the Know Plastics educational programme. She has been an active part of the in-depth research, game development, user testing and feedback integration for the past 28 months. WasteLess is based in Auroville and focuses on educating the next generation so they have the tools, skills and knowledge to address humanities most dirty problem - waste!

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