Free Download: School Assembly Presentation (at the end of this post).
When we first told the boys that we were going plastic-free for a month – last June – they were surprisingly accepting about it all, particularly when you consider that they hate doing anything that’s ‘different’ or sets them apart from their friends.
I showed them a video about the impact of plastic waste, we talked it through, and they understood why we wanted to do something about it. They got it!
Life without Haribo
Then, it dawned on them that there would no longer be a ready supply of biscuits in the tin unless we made them, salt and vinegar crisps in the cupboard or Haribos on the top of the fridge (for emergencies, of course). There was a moment of shock and many more of eye-rolling. I’ve got to be honest– it did take some of the shine off their initial enthusiasm. But, much to my amazement, give or take a few minor meltdowns, that was pretty much it!
We now bake A LOT. We’ll buy paper-wrapped chocolate, make popcorn and a whole host of other goodies, and probably eat more cake than we should. But, believe it or not, they rarely ask about sweets anymore. Life goes on without any mention of Haribo and that in itself is a marvel.
Quick to adapt
Before we knew it, the boys were ordering drinks without straws, saying no to plastic bags and choosing products off the shelves with the least amount of packaging, without me having to say a word.
They quickly got used to a life without (much) plastic, helping out more in the kitchen and they are the first to point it out when we get it wrong. Which is exactly what my eldest did last week when I ordered ten pairs of cycling gloves from Amazon only to receive each one individually wrapped! (That’s a story for another time.)
I’m sure they will scoff their body weight in plastic-wrapped goods at friends’ houses given half the chance – they aren’t angels after all. And if the lure of an ice lolly, chocolate bar or bottled drink gets too much, they’ll ask for it, but they know the answer will usually be “no” and they are usually okay with that.
Children care about our impact on the world
The best thing about all this is that I think their response has been pretty typical of kids their age. When two friends and I led an assembly at our children’s primary school, we talked about the magic of our seas, the common threat of plastic, why it is so damaging and what they could do to help limit plastic waste.
Looking beyond my own children’s embarrassment of seeing mum on stage, three things were immediately apparent. We were in a room full of Sir David Attenborough and Steve Backshall fans whose knowledge about marine life was truly impressive, they really do care about the impact of what we do on the world around us and ultimately they were willing to do things differently.
When I’ve spoken with adults about what we’re trying to do, I’ve lost count of those that have asked (albeit kindly) if this is really going to make much of a difference. “Isn’t it the retailers who need to change?” they said.
Not the children. They asked question after question, and several parents contacted us later on to say that their sons and daughters were now encouraging them to cut back on single-use plastic. While we’d gone in there hoping to inspire the kids, the truth is that the children’s perspectives and enthusiasm were undoubtedly more inspirational for us than the other way around.
The children I spoke with expressed an inherent and deep-rooted concern for the world we live in, for protecting wildlife and their habitats. They want a world where rivers and seas are clean and safe and, ultimately, where human behaviour – our choices – don’t negatively impact on the world around us, now or in the future.
Unfettered by practical limitations such as how they will find the time or the money to make change happen, children’s goals aren’t always achievable, but their genuine care is powerful and contagious. If even just a fraction of that enthusiasm and passion could be taken on into adulthood, the next generation are sure to make far better choices than we ever did. Most importantly, we would have the potential to create the seismic shift in consumer behaviour that is needed to protect and preserve our world.
With this in mind, I’m sharing the presentation that we delivered, with a few updates. It’s not perfect of course, but I hope it might be useful for anyone who sets out to do the same.