Litter is waste disposed of in the wrong place rather than in the bin. This can be anything from small items like sweet wrappers, large collections of waste or scatterings of litter dispersed around public places outdoors.
The majority of litter comes from people dropping it either on purpose or by accident, although some litter comes from other sources, for example wind-blown or natural litter.
Litter can harm the environment in a number of different ways. It is a breeding ground for disease causing insects and rodents and can seriously injure animals. Wildlife and small animals can get cut by broken glass, sharp tin cans and even get stuck in bottles. It has been reported that cigarette butts and filters have been found in the stomachs of fish, birds and whales who have mistaken them for food.
Litter for Early Years
Litter is often the first topic centres choose to work on as part of their action plan. There are numerous activities to work through and these usually have an immediate visual impact. Litter is a topic that is easily understood by all ages and a litter-free centre can improve its image in the community.
Keep Britain Tidy
Eco-Schools is run in England by the anti-litter charity, Keep Britain Tidy. Keep Britain Tidy regularly campaigns against litter and neglect and has developed campaigns specifically for young people. You can request free posters and stickers to display in your centre through the Keep Britain Tidy website.
Join the Big Tidy Up!
Doing a Big Tidy Up is a great way to tackle litter in your school. The campaign is run by Keep Britain Tidy and is England’s biggest ever spring clean! You simply register to join the campaign by visiting the Big Tidy Up. Then you will receive a free tidy up kit containing everything you need to get started, such as refuse bags, tabards, stickers, badges and an information booklet. All you’ll need are your own litter pickers, however these can often be borrowed from your local council. Since it was launched in 2008, thousands of schools have joined the Big Tidy Up, helping to collect thousands of bags of litter!
A litter pick is a great way to improve the local environment and involve the wider community. Not only will the children learn about why it is important not to drop litter, they will also gain experience and knowledge of cleaning it up. When the litter pick is over ask the children what type of litter they saw the most of and discuss the issues around this. Also, why not contact the local press? Children and the wider community on a litter pick provides a great photo opportunity!
Activity Tip: Waste Garden
Choose a range of organic and non-organic waste. Organic waste is anything that was once living and will break down at a fast rate. Non-organic are man made materials such as tin cans and plastics and these may not break down in our lifetime. Ask the children to place the items in a designated area of the centre grounds and observe over time. Discuss with the children the reason why some types of litter disappear much quicker than others. This will emphasise the importance of not littering. If the centre doesn’t have adequate grounds for a waste garden, the exercise can be completed indoors.
Ask the children to draw a picture of the chosen items and stick the images to each item. Then fill a plastic transparent container with soil and make sure that this is kept moist – it’s important that the soil doesn’t dry out. Next, place the items inside the container and ask the children to observe this over a four week period. Discuss with the children why some of the items have decomposed quicker than others.
Activity Tip: Litter Pledge
Explain and discuss with the children the problems of litter and why it’s important not to drop any. Ask the children to then design a litter pledge. This could be a poem or statement – the children could design this as a leaf or a litter bin and take it home for parents to sign. This will not only improve children’s knowledge of litter but also involve parents and the wider community.
Activities such as these centres will not only improve their image and children’s knowledge but can also link with the Early Years Foundation Stage learning goals, such as:
Being confident to try new activities, initiate ideas and speak in a familiar group
Responding to significant experiences, showing a range of feelings when appropriate
Working as part of a group or class, taking turns and sharing fairly, understanding that there needs to be agreed values and codes of behaviour for groups of people
Interacting with others, negotiating plans and activities and taking turns in conversation
Finding out about and identifying some features of living things, objects and events they observe
Finding out about their environment and talking about those features they like and dislike
Showing curiosity and interest by exploring surroundings
Investigating places, objects, materials and living things by using all the senses as appropriate