Raising an eco-warrior is easier than you think – and you can start when your child is very young. Ina Opperman spoke to Malusi Vatsha, chief executive officer of Delta Park Environmental Centre about how to instil good environmental awareness and practices in your children from a young age.
As parents, we know by now how important it is to care about the environment, and take active steps to ensure that we do not damage the planet. It is also our duty to ensure that our children do the same, and the earlier you start, the better.
A child’s habits are formed within the first five years of life, and if the habit of caring about the planet is instilled in toddlers, there is hope for the future. Malusi Vatsha, chief executive officer of Delta Park Environmental Centre in Johannesburg, says parents can turn going green into a fun experience by taking children out into nature and teaching them how to enjoy it. Also teach them that the environment is fragile and how what we do, such as recycling, can help.
He thinks it is good to start teaching your child to be environmentally aware from a very young age. Let your child see you composting, recycling paper, saving water and electricity, use cloths instead of paper, cleaning up, shopping at second-hand stores, buying goods with little packaging and celebrating Earth Day. If you do it every day, your child will follow your example.
“You can start by setting a good example and concentrate on the ‘Three Rs’ of reduce, reuse and recycle,” says Vatsha.
You can teach your child to reduce waste by instilling the habit of producing less waste, Vatsha says. From a young age, you can:
- Visit the library or buy second hand-books instead of buying new books.
- Use reusable containers for food and juice for school and outings.
- Let your children help you make household cleaning products using ingredients such as lemon, bicarb and water instead of dangerous chemicals.
You can also set an example as a parent by using less to produce less waste, Vatsha says. As a parent you can:
- Stop waste before it even becomes waste, or prevent waste at the source.
- Buy only what you need and buy in bulk, because larger quantities have less packaging.
- Avoid disposable products and try to choose recyclables over non-recyclables.
- Buy local and buy eco-friendly products.
In our modern world, it is impossible not to create some kind of waste, but with some creative thinking parents can teach their children from a young age to reduce waste by giving things a second life. You can:
- Sell or give away old books.
- Use old magazines, toilet paper rolls, and empty cardboard or plastic containers for art projects.
- Use old clothes and things such as buttons for art projects.
- Reuse glass containers for storage.
As a parent you can:
- Reuse things such as shopping bags, containers, clothes and boxes.
- Donate items rather than throwing them away.
- Repair and reuse items such as appliances instead of always buying new ones.
Separation of waste materials at the source keeps different kinds of waste separated and encourages and ensures successful recycling, Vatsha explains. It is difficult to separate and use recyclable waste once it is mixed.
After instilling the habit of recycling, it is a good idea to teach your child when she is old enough to understand that recycling helps to protect our environment, saves energy and reduces pollution, saves water, conserves resources, saves valuable landfill space, saves wildlife habitats and saves money.
Teach your children to recycle and make it a way of life, Vatsha says. You can make it a fun activity by:
- Taking your child to a recycling point, such as the one at Delta Park, to drop off materials for recycling.
- Showing your children when you buy products made from recycled materials.
- Letting your children help you rinse out bottles, cans and plastic containers before they are dropped off for recycling.
- Letting your children help you sort out things for recycling.
As a parent you can set an example by:
- Supporting recycling programmes. Do research and ask around to find out what local options there are for recycling.
- Recycling recyclable materials that cannot be repaired or re-used.
- Always making sure that you take the correct items to the right recycling depot.
- Using buy-back centres that pay for recyclables, or charity organisations that will welcome your recyclables for their recycling programmes. Share this money with your child to show that recycling pays.
Products that can be recycled are: metal tins and cans, glass, paper, tetrapak containers, plastic, electronics, batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs, motor oil and biodegradable material.
Add a fourth R
Vatsha recommends that parents add a fourth R: refuse. His advice is not to give in when your child wants plastic toys that will not last and end up in a landfill. “Rather give your child an experience for her birthday instead of more plastic. I think a visit to a national park will mean more than another plastic toy.”