Schoolchildren need to learn the waste lesson

As Waste Watch launches a campaign calling for DEFRA to provide funding for strategic waste and recycling education, Richard Newson, Marketing Officer at Waste Watch, examines the case for improved government funding.

Adele is nine years old and lives in the West Midlands. When she grows up she wants to be a pop star like Britney Spears or J-Lo because she loves the fashionable clothes they wear. She has a remarkable awareness of designer clothing brands and her favourite labels are DKNY, Ted Baker and Diesel. She refuses to wear anything that doesn't bear an expensive designer tag, and currently has her heart set on a DKNY cardigan costing £70. At school, Adele teases fellow pupils who don't wear designer clothes, calling them "nickynonames".

Welcome to the world of the "tweens", a word that marketing gurus have coined for children aged between 8 and 12, who are becoming one of the most powerful groups of consumers in the UK.

Adele was just one of the children featured on a recent BBC Panorama programme looking at the emergence of the formidable tweens, estimated to influence over 60% of household spending decisions and with a combined spending power of £60 million each week in pocket money. But as multi-million pound advertising campaigns aggressively target children like Adele, it isn't just the financial pressure placed on parents that is a source of concern. The formidable consumer power of young people takes its toll on the environment. Furthermore, the tweens of today are the adults of tomorrow. Can the Earth's resources withstand the onslaught of a fully grown Adele and her peers?

Role of the classroom

The simple fact is that education is one of the only tools that society has to stand up against the huge resources being brought to bear on young people by advertising agencies and marketing consultants. It's estimated that there are currently 2,485 hours of children's TV broadcast every week in the UK, almost all with liberal amounts of advertising. To counter this influence, classroom education can give the next generation the information they need to make informed decisions and become responsible consumers who produce less waste and recycle more.

Most people seem to recognise the crucial role that education must play in nurturing an environmentally aware society. The DEFRA website states that "education and awareness raising are key to helping the UK deal with its waste more sustainably". Similarly, the UN has made environmental education a priority by designating 2005 the start of the UN decade for education for sustainable development.

Research shows that education results in a change in behaviour, and that children taught about recycling, for example, will influence how their parents and siblings behave at home. Studies conducted by the University of East Anglia, the Open University, MORI and the Centre for Sustainable Energy all confirm the benefit of educating children about waste, recycling and the environment.

However, since the reform of the landfill tax credit scheme in 2002, education work on waste and the environment has been marginalised and to date there is no provision for strategic national waste and resources education work, local waste education work or wider education for sustainable development work, either in the formal school environment or in the non-formal setting.

Pressure on programme

As a result of the reform to the landfill tax credit scheme, many excellent education projects have been forced to close. Global Action Plan lost over £200,000 in funding and had to stop working in schools in the north-west and Gloucestershire, despite an excellent record of achievement whereby schools were able to reduce the amount of waste they produced by an average of 41%.

Similarly, Waste Watch was forced to close a number of Schools Waste Action Clubs in Rotherham and North Yorks. These projects featured a tried and tested education programme that linked waste education to other areas of the national curriculum such as numeracy, science and citizenship. Alongside the classroom element of the project, pupils implemented an action plan to radically cut the amount of waste that the school produced, often resulting in reductions as high as 70%. Even projects like the hugely successful Cycler the rapping robot, who has helped introduce nearly one million children to the 3Rs of waste, and was recently named a "recycling hero" by the Greater London Authority, faces an uncertain future in the present funding climate.

However, closures of existing education projects are not the only problem. Since the landfill tax reforms it's been impossible to find funding for new projects in many areas of sustainability. "There are other issues besides recycling that need to be part of our education work now", commented Waste Watch Education Manager Lisa Cockerton. "The amount of waste being produced in the UK is rising every year: in order to address this, issues further up the waste hierarchy than recycling, such as reduction, reuse and sustainable consumption need to be addressed in school education".

Campaign for funding

With these facts in mind, Waste Watch is coordinating a campaign calling on DEFRA to make a proportion of the landfill tax available for strategic waste education work in school, without the need to prove a direct effect on household recycling targets. Furthermore, there should be a wider funding framework encompassing broader education for sustainable development issues such as sustainable energy and water use.

The evidence clearly indicates a profound need for these changes, and since the campaign for funding was launched in December 2004 around 100 organisations and individuals have pledged their support.

Local authorities, businesses, charities and large corporations have all come forward to support the call for more funding. As the Labour mantra of "education, education, education" rings out in election year, a growing coalition is calling for the government to provide money to back up the rhetoric. If you wish to support the campaign for strategic waste education funding please contact education@wastewatch.org.uk


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