We all learn by example. We either step up our game or justify slacking, depending on what is going on around us. Sure, some will always have that extra drive or perfectly calibrated moral compass, but generally we look around to see what the norm is and go with that. Children look especially to parents and teachers to guide them. And even when rebelling and pushing against being told what to do, I suspect that they are still absorbing examples of right and wrong. Positive and negative. Perhaps it’s all a crapshoot but still I believe that, second only to home, schools and teachers are the strongest influence and can and should make a difference.
Recently I was telling my friend, who is a local teacher, that I felt like a one-woman hazardous waste site because of all the burnt-out Christmas lights I couldn’t recycle properly. She pointed out the bigger picture: “If you want to really make a difference with recycling and our environment, get the schools to recycle—start with the children.” Duh! I simply hadn’t thought about that (not having kids of my own, school programs or lack thereof were off my radar). “If we begin with the kids—our future—then maybe one day something truly substantial might replace our current missteps and missed opportunities.”
Just think about it: make reducing waste and recycling (and reversing our community’s propensity for littering) a part of every school’s agenda and mindset, while teaching that caring about such things is not only important but cool. Just as our local musicians have billboarded against littering and the 610 Stompers have made public-service ads for pedestrian safety, maybe the schools could enlist some of our Saints to visit students with a message and a motivation. What if a call went out to our local talent to rap to the students on the need to recycle? Sounds corny? Fine, then let’s brainstorm to find an approach that will resonate with the students. If necessary, make them pissed off that their future has been compromised by our lack of motivation.
My friend felt that education about and enactment of recycling in schools would be important not merely because it could curb the incredible amount of waste she sees every day (that could be recycled) but because of the pay-it-forward effect these kids and their recycling and conserving attitudes could have on their parents and family: “Mom, why aren’t you recycling—we do it at school and our teacher told us that…” Let the kids hold the parents and their younger siblings accountable. Nothing shames me more than a child calling me out on something I should already know.
Every day, I meet visitors to our amazing city who are so surprised (and often quite annoyed) that there is no recycling for them to use. Tourism not only creates a large percentage of our revenue and tax dollars, but also contributes a tremendous amount of waste that could, for the most part, be recycled. Yet the City offers no commercial recycling and French Quarter residential pickup is limited and insufficient, leaving many renters ineligible. Why do our visitors care more about this than our restaurants, hotels, bars and tourist attractions do? Why does our City care so little?
Schools are in the business of teaching, and therefore instruction could be implemented and teachers and students alike could learn to participate in this needed effort to curb our ever-growing waste.
Motivated by my teacher friend, I contacted the City to see if anything was available to the schools. The answer: very little. There are grants out there to assist with recycling (certainly worth using); nevertheless, the City would need to offer weekly pickup, just as it does for residential—and as of this printing, it does not. I was told that the schools are responsible for their own trash and recycling. However, the City does provide recycling for City Hall; NOPD Headquarters; Municipal, Traffic and Civil courts; several libraries; and NORD headquarters (but not the NORD playgrounds). This is more than I expected but why not schools? Start strong there and let it grow.
Recycling within our schools would certainly be an undertaking. Getting kids to properly separate trash from recyclables would be like herding cats—at first. But schools are in the business of teaching, and therefore instruction could be implemented and teachers and students alike could learn to participate in this needed effort to curb our ever-growing waste. If schools can develop curricula, teach vast amounts of information and turn all that into knowledge for large numbers of children of all ages, then why can’t the City figure out how to send a truck with three guys once a week to empty a dozen cans of recyclables?
If we want to be a world-class city, we need leaders who can step up. We need to be a lean, green, racin’ machine if we will keep pace with the future. And that future can be found in our classrooms.