The impact of pollution has really started to hit home for many people across the globe in recent years: millions have turned to veganism and across the world governments are making moves to try and save our suffering planet.
185 parties are currently involved in the Paris agreement, a landmark global action plan to combat climate change, and as well as tackling air pollutants many officials have made moves to fight the materials polluting our land; plastic is one of the most problematic.
While society is now making a desperate attempt to fix the mistakes, when it comes to saving the planet much of the responsibility is falling on children.
In 2015, a plastic bag charge was introduced in England and recent government data revealed the number of carrier bags in use is down 90 per cent since the initiative began. Earlier this year both Canada and the European Union voted to ban single-use plastic by 2021, while some supermarkets in Asia have started using banana leaves as a plastic substitute to protect their products.
These are just some of the steps taken to tackle the problem across the world and while they are certainly positive moves we need to ensure the changes continue; that we never fall back into old ways or risk polluting the planet through new habits. To help achieve this, we need to turn to young generations.
Thankfully, there are many schools and organisations which encourage teaching children about the impacts of plastic pollution and climate change. The organisation Kids Against Plastic, for example, provides teachers with resources to help embed learning about plastic pollution into the curriculum.
However, to ensure children know how they can tackle the problem themselves, rather than just being taught about the impacts, environmental activist and musician Dougie Poynter has written Plastic Sucks! which is packed with facts, stats and tips aiming to give the next generation an insight to the plastic problem and feel inspired to do something about it.
Explaining why he decided to write a book for children, Dougie told UNILAD:
Being a fan of nature, I just want to do what I can to help preserve what we still have before it’s too late. At school I was taught about deforestation, but never what I could do about it, which made it feel much scarier. I want to give the power back to the kids.
I think it’s important to remember children literally are the future. They are our future lawyers, doctors, government officials.
Rather than teaching old dogs new tricks, I believe it’s more important to inspire the next generation of gatekeepers. Kids aren’t scared to tackle a problem head on – they just go for it!
The 31-year-old went on to point out that while there is added pressure on young generations to fix the problems made by those before them, placing blame will get us nowhere in terms of helping the environment.
I just think the world was a different place back then. We could waste a lot of time pointing the finger at who or what is to blame when that time could be used to figure out how to fix the problem. I think all of us need to accept responsibility.
As Jane Goodall said; for the first time in the history of planet earth a species actually has the ability to prevent itself from extinction.
Humans are creatures of habit and while buying and carrying around a reusable coffee cup instead of throwing one away every morning might seem like added effort in reality it’s these kinds of small changes that can make the difference, providing you get enough use out of them. It’s easy to believe one more cup wouldn’t have an impact but think of the result if all seven billion of us said the same.
At a young age, kids are learning lessons every day. Don’t cross the road without looking; don’t talk to strangers; say please and thank you. Youngsters are always learning and so refusing plastic, reusing and recycling can simply become another behaviour they incorporate into their daily lives.
I went to a nearby shopping mall, my 5 year old doughter shouted "do not give us plastic bags please".
— nyakorema rioba (@eecoInitiative) August 20, 2018
Unlike some adults, kids aren’t too set in their ways and so accepting environmentally friendly alternatives shouldn’t be too problematic for them. It offers the opportunity to make lifelong, positive habits and in turn they can teach friends and family how to make changes of their own. Most importantly, they can pass the practices on to generations after them.
23-year-old Tom, a primary school teacher from Liverpool, spoke to UNILAD about how children carry lessons with them throughout their lives, pointing out ‘all behaviour is learned and instilled from a young age’.
Tom explained how in the space of one school year some of his students went from knowing nothing about plastic pollution to becoming ‘children who are genuinely passionate about doing their bit to help the world around them’. By the end of the year he was getting sent pictures of his students litter picking, recycling and going on bike rides and filling their baskets with abandoned rubbish.
The children I am currently teaching will be our next generation of adults. If you create a passion and demonstrate how important something is within a person’s childhood, the likelihood is it will manifest itself into their adult life.
Plastic Sucks! informs readers of easy swaps they can do within the home, without having a complete life overhaul.
Dougie gave some examples of effective changes which can be made, saying:
I think the simple things have been most effective; reusable bags, water bottles, bars of soap, toothpaste without micro beads and beeswax cling film.
I have a set of takeaway cutlery that always comes in handy when I go out. I think I’ve used that the most out of everything I have. I didn’t realise how much plastic cutlery I was going through while on the road and now I can just use my own.
Dougie went on to recall how he encouraged a number of his neighbours to recycle simply by sending a couple of emails:
One thing that was super simple was moving into my gated community and realising that there was no recycling there. So I sent a couple of emails to my local authority and they introduced recycling boxes for the building within two weeks.
That’s an easy win that anybody could do and now everybody in my building recycles!
The book is an ideal way to introduce or expand on the topic of plastic pollution when it comes to informing kids and throughout this month Plastic Sucks! will be brought into schools for a Plastic Sucks! Day, to give kids and teachers an easy toolbox to kick-start the process and help them start thinking about the positive day-to-day changes they can make.
Tom explained how the students in his school have loved reading books about plastic pollution, recycling and the ocean, saying ‘they are a fantastic educational resource’.
There’s no denying plastic pollution is a problem. According to UN Environment, in the early 2000s our output of plastic waste rose more in a single decade than it had in the previous 40 years. Now, we produce about 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year – nearly the equivalent to the weight of the entire human population.
Only nine per cent of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled; about 12 per cent has been incinerated and 79 per cent has accumulated in landfills, dumps or the natural environment. Eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans every year and plastic waste can persist in the environment for centuries, ruining the landscape and harming wildlife.
There’s evidence the measures being taken to reduce plastic are working – in 2018 government scientists compiled data on 25 years’ worth of plastic trawled from the bottom of the sea and found the number of plastic bags on the seabed had dropped after new policies surrounding the material were introduced, the Independent report.
Dr Thomas Maes, a marine litter scientist at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), who conducted the research, said:
It is encouraging to see that efforts by all of society, whether the public, industry, NGOs or government to reduce plastic bags are having an effect.
We observed sharp declines in the percentage of plastic bags as captured by fishing nets trawling the seafloor around the UK compared to 2010 and this research suggests that by working together we can reduce, reuse and recycle to tackle the marine litter problem.
However, despite the reduction in carrier bags the overall amount of deep-sea litter remained roughly constant due to an increase in the number of other plastic items, including bottles and fishing debris. There is still much more to be done when it comes to reducing plastic waste.
UNILAD also spoke to Alex Barton, a year three teacher from a school in Staffordshire, about how crucial it is to educate children in particular about plastic pollution.
It’s important because it’s a serious threat to our wildlife. The children love learning about sea creatures but they also need a realistic understanding that these creatures are under serious threat if our immense plastic waste continues.
Did you know…. we use FIVE TRILLION plastic bags per year? #PlasticSucks will be out in bookshops in 3 weeks! Pre-order now and join the movement to fight the plastic problem 🌱https://t.co/64zyA1UGpZ pic.twitter.com/vMlpUNUtCx
— Dougie Poynter (@DougiePoynter) August 12, 2019
Reducing the amount of plastic which ends up in the environment is vital for our planet and we can all do our bit to contribute to the clean up. However, younger generations are the ones who can ensure the positive changes become permanent; that there is a worthwhile knock-on effect for decades to come.
Plastic Sucks! teaches children how to make the types of changes which could ultimately save the world from drowning in the persistent material.
Plastic Sucks! is available in UK bookstores for £9.99.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.