It had to be one of the coldest November mornings, of course, windy, dark, close to snowing, but just holding off. About 25 hearty souls showed up for the first round of a three-part tour of our city’s refuse and recycling systems. Our first stop was the landfill.
I noticed right off the van load of one eco-family: Dad, mom and four kids, some of whom may have been guests for that Saturday’s educational outing. A few other children were there, too — mostly babies bundled tightly inside their respective strollers. But these kids were here to learn. Had some parent prepped them about the importance of all this? I was curious.
The children ranged in age from about 7 to about 10 or 11, I guessed. It’s been more than a few years since I had wrestled my own little ones away from Saturday-morning television for anything educational like this. My two are in their twenties now. (Okay, so I’ve dated myself.)
These children were well mannered and attentive, occasionally raising their hands to ask questions of the group leader. We ventured outside and leaned into the cold wind to see firsthand the layering, the venting, the drainage, the wind and water erosion controls, the composting, the appliance drop-off, and finally, the paint and chemical area. Once back inside, we were rewarded with hot chocolate, doughnuts and the wrap-up.
Next stop, about ten miles away, the recycling center. And yes, the same kids were there. Mom was official wrangler, keeping the strays from climbing into the cardboard balers and guiding the more active to not play kickball with the loose plastic bottles. The impatience of the little ones was beginning to show. As the tour group ambled to the next stack of bales, I thought I could redirect some of their attention.
Since I was the only person taking notes and handing out business cards, I assumed most of the crowd knew I was a reporter. That morning, Julia and I had discussed looking for eco news from a child’s point of view. I figured here was my chance, at least these kids were making the effort to be here.
I leaned over a few of the little ones, and spoke directly to the mother. “Excuse me, Ma’am, do you think that any of your children would be interested in writing about what they’ve learned here today?” Mom’s eyebrows raised and her look passed from child to child. The boys began to fade into the concrete. I could read their minds: This sounds too much like school. But the little girl shyly mumbled something to her mother. I couldn’t hear her answer.
Her mother bent over and listened, then, looking up, passed on the girl’s message. “She says she wouldn’t want to write a story, but she would like to do a drawing.” Artwork! A great idea. I passed Mom my card and introduced myself to our first eco-artist, 8 year old, Natalie.
A few days later, we got a call from Lori, who turned out to be Natalie’s step-mom. We scheduled the exchange, and the next day, Natalie and her dad, Tony, came to our offices. I noticed that Natalie had given her dad the responsibility of carrying her masterpiece. Once settled, we gathered around for the official unveiling. Ta Da!
There it was, on purple construction paper, a beautiful, yellow bird with multi-colored feathers and a bright orange beak. The beak held something that looked suspiciously like a can of orange juice. “Her name is Shoes,” Natalie said.
“Okay,” I nodded in agreement, “that makes sense. Would you like to read us the story you wrote?”
And so we learned about the reason Natalie had drawn her picture: Cardboard orange juice containers cannot be recycled because of the wax coating inside. (“Boooooooo”) Our only real choice is to send them to the landfill. And that is a waste that this young environmentalist would like to stop.
“What would you like the world to be like when you grow up, Natalie?” Julia asked.
“I want it to be no war, pretty plants, and flowers. And I wish people wouldn’t litter and companies wouldn’t use waxed juice cans.” (“Orange juice no wax. Yaaaaaaaaay!”)
I remember attending art critiques when I was in art school a hundred years ago where I heard graduate students presenting their projects with far less substance or meaning or purpose. This girl has promise.
Perhaps, someday, Natalie will get her wish, and all the orange juice containers of the world will be recyclable.
Natalie’s art has inspired us at Blue Planet Green Living to gather input from students on the subject of the environment. Students, send us your drawings. Parents, teachers, art teachers, here is your chance to give a little nudge to the budding ecopreneurs of the future.
To submit art work, pull down the menu under “Kids” in the top navigation bar. Select and print the Submission Form. Send it, along with one example of your best work to the address on the form. One entry per person, please.
In the meantime, take a closer look at Shoes, the Yellow Bird that Drinks Orange Juice, by Natalie.