Monday, April 22, was Earth Day, with this year’s theme highlighting “planet vs plastics”. You only have to scroll around on social media to find horrific statistics on how long certain plastic items linger on our planet. A plastic bottle takes up to 450 years, plastic bags – depending on their make-up – 10 to 100 years, or single-use coffee cups lined with plastic, up to 30 years.

VIS students combing the coast during the beach clean-up.VIS students combing the coast during the beach clean-up.

There are now five plastic islands drifting in the sea affecting marine life. Sadly, closer to home, walking along the Maltese seafront, you will notice a seabed full of tyres, plastic bottles, fishing lines (600 years) and much more. Our students recently took part in a local beach clean-up, which included sifting through the sand for microplastics, many of which come from our washing pods, clothes and our waste.

Children are worried about climate change, which has become a reality. Their future is predicted to be full of extreme weather and natural disasters, with humans needing to adapt to survive.

At Verdala International School (VIS), our monthly diversity calendar focuses on a deep-dive theme. Earth Month is an opportunity beyond the curriculum to emphasise the importance of taking action as the biggest problem remains changing people’s habits, shifting the mindset from selfish decisions to making choices for the greater good, and more importantly, for the future generations.

We habitually live in the now, so reducing how much we fly, carrying our own coffee cups, or perhaps walking or cycling instead of driving, is seemingly difficult for many.

Our challenge this month was to grow awareness through environmental exploration and understanding, and attempt to influence our family and community behaviours. Through our whole-school Friday Focus time, we have been providing space to explore the environmental concerns and have conversations about solutions and our part in this.

We have started to challenge our school’s decision-making

While Earth Month shines the light on these issues, taking on this responsibility underpins the ethos of the school. We recently developed our eco-charter, which is not only posted around the school in a range of languages (many translated by our own students), but also part of our narrative.

We have started to challenge our school’s decision-making. Our eco-charter is constantly considered, from choosing organically-made hoodies and waste disposal at school events to an eco-friendly graduation such as finding alternatives to plastic balloons and pollutant fireworks. Much of this is student-driven, and recently their eco-committee presented proposals to the school’s board of directors. Alongside proudly offering their community-garden school-grown potatoes, they also shared their thoughts on what VIS could be doing better. It’s not easy; there are so many aspects of school that are one-use products, such as lab experiments, stationary, glitter and play dough, or laminated posters.

We have started to review our food delivery service, which while efficient, is full of single-use packaging. Our Grade 9 English class used our eco-charter as a basis for directing letters of persuasion to the company responsible, suggesting they use food providers that are eco-friendly. The problem is that big companies appear not to care enough, as they put profit over sustainability. This in turn makes young people feel disillusioned by the adult decision-makers who can make those changes. In their eyes, they either don’t promise or make empty promises around future dates that may well be too late.

However, like our students, we as educators don’t give up hope, and under the premise of show, don’t tell, we are trying to role-model change, influence and act.

Alongside local projects, class discussions and research around waste and solutions, our finale this Earth Month is our VIS Thrift-Off. Our community will bring their unwanted clothes to school, not to sell, but to recycle, as one person’s rubbish becomes another person’s treasure. We are excited to have one of Malta’s young thrift-influencers, Samira Axiak, join us and talk about how pre-loved clothes can be cool and an alternative to expensive brands as vintage becomes the new norm. We hope to shift habits to re-using and upcycling.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step (Lao Tzu), so as we say to the students, this Earth Month “what will you do”?

 

Totty Aris is head, Verdala International School.

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