What My 3rd Grader Taught Me About Earth Day

3rd grader

Caring for our environment is a popular topic in our house. Is it in yours? If not, what better time to start the conversation than on Earth Day!

Earth Day, which originated on April 22, 1970, is celebrated by more than a billion people every year. It’s a day to put environmental concerns at the forefront. It’s a day of action that provokes change.

The lightbulb turned on for me when we lived in Germany almost 20 years ago.

Everywhere you turned, there was a receptacle available for recycling. This was not the case back home in the United States. In fact, a recent article stated Europe recycles 30 percent of its plastics, compared to 9 percent in the U.S.

When we moved back to the States, we made it a priority to recycle wherever and whatever we could….even when it wasn’t convenient. Our trash collector picked up plastics, but not glass, so we had to take our glass to a separate recycling center.

I thought I was doing my part to be eco-friendly, but I’ve learned–mostly from my kids–that I can do so so much more.

How Kids Are Teaching Us to Care

When kids are taught from an early age to think about the environment, they are more likely to continue to care for it as they grow older.

I feel like I’m the student most days. Our schools have done a tremendous job teaching our kids ways to care for our Earth. And in turn my kids have taught me.

Take our 3rd grade son, for example. He joined the ‘Green Team’, which is a group of students who meet bi-weekly to talk about ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.

The team is responsible for collecting the recycling in each classroom, doing ‘green’ projects throughout the year and being an advocate by telling others what they are learning.

Trashless Lunch Day

Recently, our son had to speak to another class about Trashless Lunch Day, a day when there is a big effort to reduce the amount of trash thrown away after lunch. He encouraged them to only bring/take what they could eat and, if packing a lunch, to bring reusable containers.

The food-service company did its part by serving food in reusable containers. For example, if a child chose the ‘kid lunchable’ option, the lunchable container was reusable. They used similar containers for the ‘parfait’ lunch choice as well.  

I’m happy to report the waste amounted to just one garbage bag versus the 11 bags of garbage usually collected after lunch. This is amazing!

Imagine the reduction in trash if we were that conscientiousness everyday when packing kids’ lunches and deciding how much food to take.

Because of the efforts of our school to reduce waste in the cafeteria, our food-service provider is experimenting with using the reusable plastic containers on an ongoing basis. This is all due to a few motivated teachers and a small group of students advocating for change!

Isn’t it inspiring when we work together to make a difference?

Planting a Butterfly Garden

The Green Team is also working on planting a butterfly garden outside the school. The garden will be a place for butterflies and other insects to pollinate.

Growing a garden teaches kids about responsibility. It will need to be watered and cared for in order to flourish. The garden will also provide beauty for the school community to enjoy. Who doesn’t love to gaze at beautiful flowers and butterflies?

Trex Plastic Film Recycling Challenge

This year our school participated in the Trex Plastic Film Recycling Challenge. The company, Trex, which makes composite products, sponsored the event. It was a fun way to compete against other schools to recycle the most plastic film.

This was especially important because film is the type of plastic–grocery bags, bread bags, ziplock bags–that you can’t recycle with your normal recycling.

This was a great lesson in understanding how much plastic we still throw away. To date, we’ve collected 220 pounds of plastic through this challenge!

We are very fortunate to have inspiring teachers leading the efforts of the ‘Green Team,’ as well as the staff who lead by example. A big thanks to them for showing our kids, and in turn showing the rest of us, ways we can care for our world EVERYDAY!

Going Green Everyday

Perhaps you can bring a few of the ideas above to your school, but if not, here are some simple, everyday ways our son is teaching us to be green:

  • Carpool whenever possible
  • Turn off water when brushing teeth
  • Turn off lights
  • Use the right kind of light bulbs (CFLs)
  • Recycle paper, plastic and glass
  • Use reusable cloth bags for groceries
  • Plant a tree
  • Take shorter showers
  • Use reusable water bottles
  • Limit paper products like plates and cups
  • Borrow instead of buying
  • Pick up litter

Since that first Earth day, we’ve come a long way in making the Three R’s–reduce, reuse, recycle–a part of our everyday vocabulary.

But one day a year isn’t enough. If we truly want to make big changes, we need to make small changes in our lives everyday.

This is what my 3rd grader has taught me. That when we all do our part, it makes the burden a little lighter and our world a little brighter.

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