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Preparing Our Children For a Resilient Future, Part I: Recycling

Our Role as Facilitators

Having been a home educator for nearly 18 years, I have become aware of the value of hands-on experiences for helping children learn and really understand concepts — experiences that are relevant to their lives and help prepare them for a real future, in much more than just academic ways.
We as parents, or educators, can help children explore the concepts and skills they will need to develop to equip them for the very different future they will no doubt be facing. Often our role will just be to be there and help with materials and tips if needed. A lot of the value of these discoveries is in allowing children to experiment, make ‘mistakes’ now and then, and to find workable solutions. I think we should try to curb the natural desire to solve the problems which may occur, immediately, and give the children a chance to sort it out themselves first.

The activities in this article, and those in following parts of this series, are designed to get kids involved with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of creating a more resilient lifestyle and understanding how the things in our world connect and how we can all help these connections to flow naturally. In Part I we will look at various aspects of recycling.

One of the principles of permaculture is that nothing should go to waste… everything should be part of the cycle… the natural flow. That is a very difficult thing to achieve in every aspect of our modern lives, however there are lots of ways we can recycle, as well as lessen the waste we produce.

There is of course the normal recycling practices in which the children can be involved on a daily basis, but there are lots of other ways you can help change how they view the materials that pass through their lives.

Landfill — Our Dirty Legacy

Let’s begin by understanding a bit about how long the things we send to landfill last, before they break down.

Have a look at the list below and see if you can guess the order these items should be placed in, from the things that break down quickest, to those that take the longest. Then have a guess as to how long you think each one will take to break down.

  • paper bag
  • plastic jug
  • cigarette butt
  • glass bottle or jar
  • banana
  • aluminium can (soft drink can)
  • leather boot or shoe
  • plastic 6-pack rings
  • Styrofoam cup
  • cotton pillowcase
  • rubber sole of the leather boot (above)
  • wool sock or scarf
  • tin can (e.g. baked beans or soup can)

Don’t cheat by looking at the answers below, until you have made your own list.

Here is what scientists predict for these items:

  • banana — 3 to 4 weeks
  • paper bag — 1 month
  • cotton pillowcase — 5 months
  • wool sock — 1 year
  • cigarette butt — 2 to 5 years
  • leather boot — 40 to 50 years
  • rubber sole — 50 to 80 years
  • tin can — 80 to 100 years
  • aluminium can — 200 to 500 years
  • plastic 6-pack rings — 450 years
  • plastic jug — 1 million years
  • Styrofoam cup — unknown? forever?
  • glass bottle — unknown? forever?

As you can see, some of the things we throw away may never break down in the landfill! Many of these can be recycled, so we can help lessen what remains in our landfills by making sure we recycle items that can be and by purchasing as little as possible of those things that are packed in non-recyclable packaging.

A New Purpose

Rather than being thrown away, or into the recycling bin, some things can be ‘recycled’ right at home, or school, etc., by giving them a new purpose. The activities below give a few ideas for this… but don’t limit yourself to just these ideas. The possibilities are almost endless!

Milk Bottle Igloo

Empty plastic milk bottles, soft drink bottles or juice bottles can be used to create fun structures, such as ‘igloos’ or cubby houses.

Step 1: Collecting

Get all your friends and family involved with collecting bottles for this project. For a decent size structure you will probably need several hundred bottles. The igloo in the video below took approximately 400. Make sure they are properly cleaned. Also, you will need the lids in place, as the air trapped inside gives your bottle ‘bricks’ strength.

You also need large pieces of heavy cardboard for the base — fridge and other large appliance boxes are ideal for this.

Step 2: Planning

Decide how big your structure should be. This will depend on how many bottles you can collect and how many people you want to be able to fit inside. Do you want to be able to lay down in it, or just sit?

Lay your cardboard out, taped together if there is more than one piece, and draw the outline of your igloo or cubby base shape. If you wish to make it circular, attach a pencil to a piece of string (length equal to the radius of the circle you require — plus a bit extra for tying) and to an object which can either be glued or stabbed through the centre point of the circle. Pull the string tight and your pencil should be in the correct place for drawing your outer circle.

Lay bottles around this line, side by side, lids pointing in to the centre of the structure, to work out how many the base layer will need. Don’t forget to leave ample room for a doorway. When you get to upper levels, the top over the door will also need filling in.

Next, work out how many layers high you want to make it. For an igloo, the first several layers just taper up very slightly, so may only use one or two less bottles per layer. The upper layers will start to slope in more, so each of those layers will use even less bottles. If you wish to make a covered entryway tunnel, allow bottles for this too. Make approximate calculations as to how many you should need. It’s wise to have a few spares on hand, for calculation shortfalls or other problems.

Step 3: Construction

You will need a high heat hot glue gun, and its glue sticks (lots!), for the next step. Several would actually be handy, so that more than one person can work on it at once.

Warning: supervise handling of glue guns at all times and don’t allow very young children to do this.

Glue the bottles in pairs with the handles facing each other (for bottles with handles). Hold in place to allow the glue to set, for about a minute.

Next, glue two pairs together, at the upper part of the side, so a slight curvature forms. You now have bottles in groups of four. Glue four to the cardboard, then another four to both the cardboard and to the four next to it, around the circle on the cardboard. Continue this all the way around, remembering to leave an ample doorway.

On the next level, indent inwards very slightly, following a similar procedure as before. Continue this upwards, making the upper layers more indented inwards, until you curve right over, making the roof. Don’t forget to fill in across doorway part way up, and then to run out a short entry tunnel, if desired.

This video is an excellent example of creating a milk bottle igloo, and well worth watching to clarify the above instructions.

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