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Sustainability, plastic waste and your school

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Sustainability, plastic waste and your school

30 January, 2018

In the last few months, the BBC’s Blue Planet II has been captivating audiences all over the world. The TV series, narrated by David Attenborough, has shown audiences the wonders of marine life, while also highlighting the urgent need for plastic waste reduction. Fans of the documentary have been deeply affected by the sight of marine life plagued by plastic waste dumped by humans. The show has helped kick start a global conversation about reducing different types of waste and living more sustainably.

David Attenborough isn’t the only person talking about plastic waste. Prime Minister Theresa May recently launched the UK government’s plan to deal with the problem and the UN has also launched its own initiative. Now is the perfect time to talk about waste reduction in your classroom, engaging your pupils in a topical international discussion. There's loads of material already out there that can help your school limit its environmental impact, plus encourage your pupils to take action to make our planet more sustainable.

Sustainable development and global learning

Sustainable development is one of the five key Global Learning Concepts at the heart of the Global Learning Programme. One common definition of sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Incorporating global learning into your classroom allows your students to critically assess current global practices and establish if they are damaging for future generations. Our use of plastics is an excellent example of an unsustainable practice - while products like plastic bottles and disposable containers make life easier for us, they are having a massive impact on developing nations and marine life.

Waste reduction and your classroom

A good way to start exploring waste and recycling in class is by watching Blue Planet II with your pupils since not everyone will have seen the programme at home. It was the final episode of the series that showed the devastating impact of human activity on our oceans so you may want to just play this episode if your time is limited. The series has its own section on the BBC website, which includes some excellent content. Here you can find shorter clips from the series (including David Attenborough’s closing message, which has gone viral), as well as easy practical tips on how everyone can protect our oceans. Need something to brighten up your classroom? In partnership with the BBC, The Open University is offering a free to order Blue Planet II poster pack. You can also check out BBC Earth on social media for some clips and engaging videos.

If Blue Planet II has sparked an interest in environmental justice within your school, then the Eco-Schools programme will be right up your street. Designed to help schools become more sustainable, Eco-Schools is an international environmental education programme. Many schools throughout Northern Ireland are already involved! A large variety of teaching resources regarding waste are available on the Eco-Schools NI website, allowing you to find the best activities for your classroom and your school. These activities are suitable for a variety of age ranges. Additionally, the Wheelie Big Challenge is currently being held by Eco-Schools NI in partnership with Belfast City Council to encourage schools in Belfast to tackle the important issue of food waste. The deadline for entering this competition is 25 April 2018.

Send a Cow has developed resources that combine education about waste reduction with opportunities for pupils to get active. Their activities put an interesting spin on the idea of reusing plastic waste. One resource includes step by step instructions for crafting plastic bag footballs with your pupils using commonly found objects around the home. Footballs like these are sometimes made by children in African countries, which means you can easily combine making the footballs with a bit of teaching about global inequality. Another resource explains how to hold a Recycled Sports Day, merging all the fun of a normal sports day with a global environmental focus. Instructions are provided for holding a variety of fun sporting events and all the necessary equipment can be constructed beforehand in class from recycled materials. Definitely one for the summer term though!

Introducing waste reduction into your classroom also provides the opportunity to engage pupils in some applied STEM learning. Practical Action's Plastics Challenge is a great starting point. Suitable for Key Stage 2 & 3, the challenge involves students learning about plastic materials and the processes used to create them. They are then tasked with imagining solutions to the complex problem of plastic waste. Practical Action has also produced a lesson plan to help pupils to distinguish between different types of waste. This allows them to decide when to reduce, reuse or recycle various materials. Afterwards, they can take this knowledge home to reduce their own household consumption.

Moving on from plastic waste, you could also discuss food waste with your class. This activity kit developed by Global Dimension is the perfect bridge activity. Designed for Key Stage 3 Geography and Design & Technology students, it uses the examples of food and plastic waste to examine global environmental sustainability. If you want to push your students even further, this TED talk will challenge older pupils to think about food wastage on a global level.

Want some inspiration to get you started? Then look no further than Ulidia Integrated College, Carrickfergus. This GLP School places a huge focus on environmental sustainability and promotes a strong green message to its pupils. All of this hard work has paid off, with UIidia becoming the first school in Northern Ireland to achieve 'Zero Waste' status. This means that none of the school’s waste is sent to landfill. A truly incredible achievement.

Waste is just one of the many challenges facing our planet, but it is a problem we can all do something about. Simply by reducing the amount of waste we are personally creating, it is possible for each of us to make a difference. By teaching about waste, you can hopefully inspire a new generation of environmentally conscious young people determined to minimise humanity’s impact on the world.

Resources to Support Classroom Practice and a Whole School Approach

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