By Virginia Till
One thing folks don’t always know about us is that many of our programs are voluntary and proactive, and assist communities. While I do much of my work in the office, I relish opportunities to get out into the public and “put a face” to government.
Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Westerly Creek Elementary School in Denver, CO.
I was looking forward to interacting with kids about the 3 R’s: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” When I found out the students were ages 3-4, I was a bit intimidated since “Recycle Rita” had never done her Recycle Relay for a group this young. However, I decided I was up for the challenge and forged ahead.
Surprise, surprise, the kids already knew a lot about my topic. If you can believe it (and I’m sure the parents out there will), some kids even knew the word “landfill!” I was very impressed. After a bit of introduction, including a relay demo, we got started. The kids had a great time running back and forth and figuring out what was landfill, recycle, reuse, or compost. Some choices had more than one answer, which got their wheels turning, but they all enjoyed it.
This experience got me thinking about how current generations often pin their hopes on future generations. I hear talk about younger folks knowing more about the environment, and caring more about it, than we did in the past. We also talk about protecting the environment for future generations. I would propose that while it’s true many children might have an ever-increasing awareness of global issues and access to information, it’s current generations that are in still in a position to get things right.
There are many opportunities to adjust our current policies and processes to include more “systems thinking” and learn lessons from nature by focusing on long-term adaptability. Customizing our activities to community needs and addressing barriers to behavior change is also a great strategy. What are the most relevant health or environmental issues you experience in your community? How can you reduce the barriers to changing behavior?
While kids today might be more aware of the environment, we have many excellent opportunities to make our communities more resilient, now and into the future. If you get a chance to slow down this spring and take in the sights, I recommend it. And next time you chat with a 4-year old, ask her or him if they know what a landfill is or about the 3 R’s. You’re bound to be impressed!
About the author: Virginia Till is an Environmental Protection Specialist for EPA’s Denver Office Environmental Stewardship Unit. Virginia works to reduce wasted food and educates others about waste diversion (source reduction, recycling, composting). Her alter ego, “Recycle Rita” often helps out in describing strategies for reducing waste in the first place.