This week, we are excited to hear from educator and researcher, Alyssa Harben. Alyssa is an Academic Specialist at Michigan State University's School of Packaging, and is passionate about educating others on sustainable practices to support our planet. In this post, she shares her top three ways each of us can take action today to help care for our planet. So, as you are working on your climate literacy lesson plans, you can help spread actionable eco-advice!
Packaging and packaged products are ever present in our lives. Whether we are shopping for food, personal care items, toys or household products, everything we buy was touched by packaging at some point. As modern society is set up to make it difficult to opt out of needing packaged products, how can we as consumers make the most responsible choices for the environment when we select products to purchase and bring into our homes?
Evaluating package materials and products is difficult, especially when there is no requirement for companies to disclose what materials they used and how to best dispose of those materials. Even for someone like me, with a doctorate in Packaging Science, it can be tricky to figure out what options are best. Luckily, there are some practices we can adopt to be more responsible consumers of packaged goods keeping in mind the waste management hierarchy.
Choose packaging alternatives that help your family reduce waste.
Food Waste is one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s something that we all have the ability to reduce. In wealthier countries, like the United States, most of the food we waste is at the consumer level. Because so much food is wasted at the consumer level, small steps we can make as consumers can reduce the harmful effects of food waste on climate change, and packaging can help.
When shopping, consider what volume of product your family will actually be able to eat before the food spoils. While we can often get great deals buying products in bulk, if the money savings result in throwing away food that did not get eaten, there is a net loss for the planet. Additionally, consider the re-sealable features when you are selecting between alternatives. Re-sealing features can help a product stay fresher longer and give you more time to consume it.
Investigate your local recycling programs.
To make sure the most recyclable material actually gets recycled, and that contamination is reduced, it’s important to figure out what recycled materials are accepted in your region. You can figure out what materials are accepted by reaching out to your local MRF, the material recovery facility that serves your area.
In the United States, access to recycling and composting programs is primarily a local issue. While federal and state funding supports these facilities in their collection and reclamation of recyclable waste, the details of what materials are accepted are determined at individual facilities. Paperboard, Corrugated Board (Also known as cardboard), PET Bottles (Number 1), HDPE Bottles (Number 2), glass bottles, and steel and aluminum cans are widely accepted. However, your local MRF might have special programs to accept multi-layer containers, mixed plastics, paper-based beverage cartons, flexible plastic materials, e-waste, or even food scraps to compost!Learn to interpret environmental labeling claims.
The final recommendation I make to people trying to choose packaging alternatives that will have the lowest net negative environmental impact is to use labeling information, and company website information. Evaluate whether or not the companies you are buying from are doing their part to reduce waste and carbon emissions with documented efforts.
- Certified post-consumer recycled content is one piece of information to look for on a package, as recycled content means waste was diverted from a landfill to make that package.
- The How2Recycle Label is another piece of information to look for to help figure out best practice for disposal of that package.
- A B Corp Certification is another third-party certification to look for, as B corporations are required to have environmental impact reduction plans. Green washing is prevalent on store shelves today.
- Looking for specific information about how to dispose of a package, what it is made of, and efforts a company is making to reduce net impacts can help consumers wade through the misleading messages and make informed decisions.
Thank you so much to Alyssa for sharing all this great information with us! If you'd like to keep up with Alyssa, and her work, please visit her website. For more information about Earth Day activities, including local Day of Action events, visit EarthDay.org.
As always, we've rounded up some top titles you can use to round out your lesson plans. We also created a whole new Subject Area, called The Environment, where you can find all these titles and more!
Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way. One plastic bag became two. Then ten. Then a hundred. The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease. Some bags were burned, leaving behind a terrible smell. Some were buried, but they strangled gardens. They killed livestock that tried to eat them. Something had to change. Isatou Ceesay was that change. She found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community. This inspirational true story shows how one person's actions really can make a difference in our world.
The 100% Solution: A Plan for Solving Climate Change by Solomon Goldstein-Rose
The world must reach negative greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. Yet no single plan has addressed the full scope of the problem-until now. In The 100% Solution, Solomon Goldstein-Rose-a leading millennial climate activist and a former Massachusetts state representative-makes clear what needs to happen to hit the 2050 target: the manufacturing booms we must spur, the moonshot projects we must fund, the amount of CO2 we'll have to sequester from the atmosphere, and much more. Most importantly, he shows us the more prosperous and equitable world we can build by uniting the efforts of activists, industries, governments, scientists, and voters to get the job done.
Little Cloud: The Science of a Hurricane by Julie McLaughlin
Follow our little cloud on an adventure through the sky and learn the science behind how it transforms from a simple cumulus cloud to a full-blown hurricane. Children will enjoy finding new gems of information even after several reads, thanks to a whimsical and rich layout. And meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe weaves a comprehensive narrative about a powerful weather system that’s so compelling readers won’t even realize they are on their way to becoming budding meteorologists.
The Kid Scientists' Galapagos Adventure from Tumble Science Podcast for Kids
What's it like to be a kid doing experiments in one of the most famous science places in the world? Oscar and Mae Johnson were nine and twelve when they traveled to the Galapagos Islands with their scientist dad. The Galapagos are isolated tropical islands made famous by Charles Darwin, who came up with the theory of evolution based on his research there. Mae and Oscar followed in Darwin's footsteps. With help from their parents, they conducted their own research and got it published in a scientific journal - a big deal for scientists of every age! Hear Mae and Oscar tell their own story of science discovery in this episode.
On Our Nature Walk: Our First Talk About Our Impact on the Environment by Jillian Roberts
This nonfiction picture book by child psychologist Dr. Jillian Roberts introduces children to the important topic of the environment. Crafted around a conversation between a grade-school-aged child and an adult, this inquiry-focused book using age-appropriate language and tone will help children shape their understanding of the natural world and how they participate in protecting it. Dr. Roberts starts the discussion with the types of pollution and trash that children might notice on a nature walk or a trip to the beach, how they are caused and how to work to improve things in their own lives and communities.
Climate Change: The Insights You Need from Harvard Business Review by A Collaboration of Authors
Climate change is threatening our world. How are you responding? Heat waves, flooding, extreme storms, harsh winters. The effects of climate change are only getting worse. How can you ensure your organization is taking the right steps to mitigate this threat-and what can you, as an individual, do to help? These articles by experts and researchers will help you understand how climate change is affecting the future of business. Climate Change: The Insights You Need from Harvard Business Review will prepare you to join in the current discussion, identify immediate and long-term risks for your company, and plan for the future.