I first became emotionally invested in the environment when I was a freshman in high school– about 14 year old. My other plastic activist friends discovered their passions for plastic minimization anywhere between 7th grade and their mid-college years. That was 14 years of using single-use plastic bottles and not fully understanding the connection between my actions and the global ramifications– something many adults still fail to see today. I have often asked myself if perhaps we are telling people to conserve after they have developed habits and lifestyles; and we all know that changing our ways is harder than setting an original precedent.
The solution is early hands-on education. I’m not just talking about traditional 5th grade science projects and answering fed questions about how we should conserve our land and oceans–which can be productive. I would argue that to make a splash in a young child’s life, ocean conservation should not only be taught, but also something assumed from early childhood play.
It is incredible what infants, toddlers, and young children pick up from their parents’ actions and the actions of whom they are surrounded by. If you drop everything to pick up a ringing telephone, your baby will pick up on this. Stressed from work? There is a good chance your toddler can sense it. I am not claiming any expertise when it comes to infant psychology, but I am noting that kids know a hell of a lot more than we think they do. How does this translate to plastic pollution? Children’s minds will detect your recycling habits, your compost processes, if you throw your plastic out your car window, and how you care for natural resources. Keep this in mind the next time you have susceptible, learning minds around.
Another great option to get infants involved– think as young as one day old– is to make pollution connections through stuffed animals. Fast Company has just released Pollutoys, a collection of plush toys created to teach kids about the plastic pollution issue. The plush animals may be cute, but also come with a belly full of removable plastic plush toys which sends a powerful message to our next budding generation. These toys may seen grim for such small children, but the faster kids can make connections and ask questions, the more potential they have to be responsible later on.
Fast forward months, maybe even a few years, and your child can participate in coastal cleanups. Beach cleaning is a great way to make a real-life connections and reflect on human action. Brownie points for discussions about what you’re actually doing, as well as talking about the ramifications if you didn’t pick up the trash and where it would end up, the place that most trash stays. These activities are fun to do with a group, and can bond friendships based on shared interests.
Don’t have kids? No problem. Talk to your friends that have children, gift a stuffed animal with a gut full of plastic, or just talk about plastic pollution when kids are present. Infants may not be capable of that much, but they are our legacy. If we want to protect our oceans, we need to make our future care, and create activists from day one.