To celebrate Earth Day, people have traditionally gone to local parks, beaches, and other natural areas to clean up litter. This action instills feelings of stewardship and pride in the hearts of volunteers all over the world. This year we must find different ways to stay connected that will keep us healthy and safe. Try these activities from home instead this Earth Day.
Think about a time you were outside enjoying a picnic or going on a hike. Did you see trash? Do you remember what it was? Maybe it was plastic bags, or aluminum cans, or even bigger items like car tires. Do you ever wonder how that trash got there into the river or onto the side of the trail? However it got there, all that trash started out as a product that someone needed. Let’s take a look at some products in your home and see where they started.
Find examples of the following items in your house. Place them all together on a table or on the floor.
- A glass jar or container
- A plastic bottle
- Something made of paper
- A piece of fruit or vegetable
- An aluminum can
- Cotton cloth
- Waxed cardboard (like a milk carton)
Take all of these items and spread them out so you can see them clearly. Pick each item up and hold it and discuss the following questions:
- What is this item made of?
- What is it used for?
- How long does it stay in my house?
- What do I do with this item when I no longer need it?
Now put these items in order of the amount of how biodegradable they are. Biodegradable means the amount of time it would take each item to naturally break down in the environment. One end will be the item that will take the shortest amount of time to break down, the other end is the item that will take the longest amount of time. Everything else will fit somewhere in between.
- What did you pick as having the shortest amount of time to break down? Why?
- What did you pick as having the longest amount of time to break down? Why?
- Write down your guesses for how many weeks, months, or years it will take each item to break down in the environment.
Once you have your timeline in place and your guesses written down, compare you answers to this key:
||Time to biodegrade
||Millions of years
||Millions of years
||450 years to turn into microplastics which continue to pollute the environment
|Fruit or Vegetable Peel
- Did any of the items on the timeline surprise you?
- Did something take longer than you expected to biodegrade?
- Did something take a shorter time than you expected?
Remember the picture of the littered landscape you looked at before? Are any of the items in front of you in that picture? How can we help stop some of these items from becoming litter?
Take another look at the items in front of you. Pick each item up and hold it and discuss the following questions:
- Is this item recyclable?
- Can it be reused in some way?
- Can this item be reduced – meaning did you need this packaging to begin with?
- Did you find items that were individually wrapped in plastic?
- Did you find items that were meant for a single use?
- Did you find plastic grocery bags?
Make a list of the ways you can reduce the amount of waste your household produces. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Put food scraps in a compost pile
- Sort recycling
- Make a shopping list that includes items that are recyclable, or contain minimal packaging.
Do the Math! Did you find any items that you could reuse, reduce, or recycle? Add up the years it would take each item to biodegrade and see how many years of litter pollution you are able to remove from the environment!
- Example – Can you reuse that glass jar for drinking, as a vase, or for storage instead of putting it in a landfill?
Congratulations! You have successfully completed a pre-cleanup evaluation of your home! By making a few simple changes in the products that we purchase and use, we can make HUGE impacts on how much trash ends up as litter in our environment.
Biodegradable: the amount of time it would take each item to naturally break down in the environment.
Environment: the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives.
Reuse: finding a new way to use something we would have thrown away.
Reduce: cutting back on the amount of waste we make.
Recycle: sorting and properly organizing products to be made into something new.
Microplastic: extremely small pieces of plastic that have degraded but stayed in an environment and continue to pollute.
Stewardship: responsible use and protection of the environment.