Thursday 17 October 2019

The children in these Irish primary schools are saying no to plastic in their lunchboxes

Greta Thunberg received a standing ovation after her speech in the House of Commons. Photo: Reuters
Greta Thunberg received a standing ovation after her speech in the House of Commons. Photo: Reuters
Ann Foulds chats to children in a Tipperary primary school about going plastic-free.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

In February 2018, researchers at National University of Ireland Galway found that 73pc of deep water fish had ingested plastic particles, one of the highest frequencies in fish ever reported.

The so-called "green wave" is sweeping across Ireland as environmental issues are a growing concern.

And just like Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, Irish school children are themselves becoming environmental activists, organising beach cleans, or eschewing single use plastics.

In Tipperary, 50 primary schools are going plastic-free with the help of Plastic Free for Schools, a programme designed by social enterprise Change by Degrees and spread through the ChangeX platform.

Ann Foulds (34) is visiting the county’s primary schools to teach pupils about reusable water bottles, saying “no” to plastic in their lunch boxes, and saying “no” to plastic straws.

“When we look at their lunchboxes, I ask if they have clingfilm or plastic bags, and we go into how we could pack a lunch without using those. Normally the answers come from the children. They might say ‘just put it into the lunch box’ - a lot of lunch boxes are compartmentalised - or they might come up with an answer like tin foil and kitchen roll and then we talk about how they're also single-use and have to end up in the bin.”

While a lot of the schools had already taken steps to ban single-use plastic bottles and straws, the children learn about how they can otherwise reduce the amount of plastic waste they generate both in school and at home.

“We talk about how if we reduce our overall waste, we don’t have to worry about where it’s going.”

“A lot of awareness now is focused on marine plastics. Tipperary is further from the coast so we speak about ditches, and plastic on the land, and rivers and lakes.”

"With the older classes, I go into the history of plastic and the fact that we’ve only been really using it since the mid 50s. It was discovered earlier than that, but it has become prevalent in everyday use.”

Ann brings stuffed marine animal toys like penguins into the classroom, and the students can open up their stomachs and see what’s inside. 

“Children can relate to this because lots of them have pets -  even one of the teachers was saying her cat had to have an operation because plastic had gotten stuck inside its digestive system.”

“We talk about the plastic in cars, technology, toothbrushes, bathrooms and kitchens at home. I highlight how we’re quite dependent on plastic. We use it more than we think."

"Often we think about plastic bags but a lot of kids’ glasses, hair ties, bracelets are plastic and we even go into clothes and the plastic fibres in their clothes. It opens their eyes to how reliant we are on plastics.”

The kids also learn about the 3Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle – and the difference between hard and soft plastics when it comes to recycling.

“We go through the 3Rs and how if they use the plastic, which ones we can and which we can’t recycle. We look at yoghurt pots and ask can they be reused for different crafts, paintings and all different things. Children are already familiar with reusing plastics for crafts.”

“Most rigid plastics can be recycled in Ireland, but they need to be clean and dry and loose.”

Ann added: “We’ve gotten into bad plastic habits. The habits I have now, I never have to think about them because they’re habits. I always bring a flask with me everywhere, I carry reusable cutlery, and I have cloth sandwich bags that I bring with me.”

“I hope that it intrigues them a little bit.”

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