On the invitation of Sarah Parker,
the head of Science and Eco schools at
This turned out to be a demanding task, considering the enormity of the problem facing society. In a nutshell, not only will there be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, but that plastic will have thoroughly poisoned the food chain by then. Our challenge was how to put an educational message across without depressing a young audience.
After sifting through many ideas and researching countless images and film, clips, Donald and I met several times in order to both clarify our ideas and practise them. It was also quite a challenge to prepare slides on PowerPoint that were interspersed with film clips.
On Thursday 22 February, we arrived at the school at 8.30am and met Sarah, who made sure our IT was up and running. When the year 4, 5 and 6 children (aged 8 to 11) filed in to sit cross-legged in front of us, we were impressed at how quiet and focused they were.
I started by explaining what Friends of the Earth as an organisation stood for. Then, contrasting the past with the present, I showed the pupils a photo of the sort of primary school I attended in the countryside, where there were only 60 children in all and we were given little glass bottles of milk to be drunk at break time with paper straws, all of which could be recycled or composted.
We then turned to the advent of plastic and explored the proliferation of this material, made from chemical by-products of the oil industry; the myriad plastic objects that make up modern life; and the fact that plastic never disappears. Cue pictures of how much plastic ends up in our oceans, forming vast trash islands in specific areas.
I chose to introduce a photo of two creatively assembled monsters made out of plastic flotsam and jetsam emerging from the sea, rather than showing horrible photos of sea creatures maimed by our rubbish, as the children all seem to have watched David Attenborough's searing footage in 'Blue Planet’. I decided to focus on the two practically invisible and evil monsters, 'Plastic Straws' and 'Lollipop /Cotton Bud Sticks', who have the capacity to slip through grates and water-system filters to spread themselves all over our seashores. I singled out these particular monsters as items that kids could campaign effectively against. I set up an element of competition when I showed them photos of Scottish primary school children who have succeeded in banning the sale of these items in their home towns.
The children enjoyed watching the trailer for a film made by an American boy called 'Plastic is Forever' and an entertaining cartoon called 'The History of Straws'. The pupils were forthcoming about offering answers to the questions I posed, and it was obvious that they had already been taught a lot about the subject. We ended our session with the girls and the boys consecutively calling out “Let's fight / the plastic monster / one straw / at a time! / Reduce / Refuse / Reuse / Recycle.” Then, all together, “Hooray!!”
Afterwards, Donald and I were shown around the school, and we admired the excellent noticeboards on display, illustrating marine plastic pollution from every year group. We would like to thank Sarah Parker for giving us the opportunity to share our Friends of the Earth campaign with such attentive youngsters.