15 December 2016 - Talk to Cub Scout group

 

Recently EFoE was invited to talk to a local Cub Scout group on an environmental topic. Sheila and Virginia found out that the Cubs’ environmental awareness badge covered recycling, waste reduction and renewable. We decided to focus on the first two.

 

For the younger group, the Beavers (ages 7-10), we began by looking at various items that might have been thrown away (food can, drinks can, milk carton, jam jar, apple, letter) and asked what they were made of, and what other things the children could think of that were made of the same materials.

 

For each object we showed a choice of pictures and asked the children which they thought it was made from (for example, for the plastic milk carton the choice was between lollipop wrappers and oil).

 

We talked about the environmental impact of sourcing the various materials (pollution, loss of land, energy use, etc.) and about the waste of resources in general.

 

The children were familiar with the concept of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and they gave us some examples of each. Finally, we demonstrated our wonderful recycling machine,  a cardboard creation with a hole at the top. The children took turns to put the various items we’d shown them at the start into the machine, turn a knob, and pull out a drawer that contained something that had been made from the item (for instance, the plastic milk bottle had been recycled into a fleece and the apple into compost).

 

We got the ideas, pictures and instructions for making the recycling machine from Friends of the Earth’s Youth and Education programme.

 

With the older group (ages 10-11), Sheila began by talking about litter. She recounted seeing a family enjoying a happy day in a local park and then leaving a fine assortment of rubbish behind – half-eaten sandwiches, crisp packets, cigarette ends, nappies, drinks cans and bottles. The boys were asked how long they thought the various items took to decompose (they were familiar with the term ‘biodegradable’).

 

Sheila went on to focus on plastics, and particularly those that end up in waterways and ultimately in the sea, where they pose a very serious danger to marine life, either because creatures become trapped in the plastic or, more insidiously, because they mistake pieces of plastic for food.

 

Microbeads, small (less than 5mm in diameter) plastic particles, are found in many personal care products such as scrubs and toothpaste, and in cleaning products. There are already trillions of these particles in the oceans. They are particularly dangerous because they are found throughout the marine environment, from surface to sediment, and can be ingested by all kinds of marine life, from plankton upwards. They remain in the food chain and have been found in fish sold for human consumption.

 

Many plastics end up in areas known as gyres, created by the ocean currents. One of these is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which has been estimated to be up to 15 million square kilometres in size. Unlike plastics in landfill, which take years to decompose, ocean plastics tend to photodegrade quickly, leaching out potentially harmful chemicals such as bisphenol A and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

 

There are ongoing efforts to clean up these garbage patches. Sheila told the story of Boyan Slat, a Dutch schoolboy who at the age of 16 was inspired to come up with a way to get rid of ocean plastics when he was on a diving holiday in Greece and realised there were more plastic bags than fish in the water. He drew up plans for a floating barrier that would move with the currents and trap surface plastics, letting fish and other creatures pass underneath.

 

After unsuccessful attempts to get business sponsorship, he turned to crowdfunding and raised more than $2 million, which enabled him to build a prototype. Since then there have been further versions, and one is being tested in the North Sea.

 

The boys were impressed by Boyan’s story, and we hope that they too might be inspired to think of solutions to the problems caused by human pollution of the environment.

 

Note: In September 2016, the UK Government announced plans to ban the sale and manufacture of cosmetics and personal care products that contain microbeads. Many cosmetics and toiletries producers have made voluntary commitments to phase them out. The European Commission is also developing proposals to ban microbeads in cosmetics throughout the EU. Products do not necessarily state that they contain microbeads. Look on www.beatthemicrobead.org for lists of products that do and do not contain plastics.