King: Plant the seeds early when looking to change long-term recycling perceptions

Changing the attitudes and actions of the public requires patience and persistence, writes Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association's Jackie King.

Changing the attitudes and actions of the public requires patience and persistence. You have to plant the seeds early and work diligently toward your goal.

The Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association wants the public to change the way they think about getting rid of used clothing. So, we are planting the seeds early by engaging elementary school students with lesson plans and activities that also teach the benefits of recycling used clothing.

The association knew it had to fight the perception that when people get rid of used clothing, the only option was donating it to a charitable organization. Where better to begin changing these long-held perceptions than with the nation’s elementary school students and teachers?

We engaged The Education Center to develop lesson plans, take-home worksheets, and activities designed to teach students from kindergarten through fifth-grade about the benefits of recycling clothes, while also meeting educational practices. The no-cost plans were presented via a website, in The Education Center’s print magazine, emails, and social media, among others.

During the 2012-2013 school year, our Wear It? Recycle It! program resulted in more than 323,400 students being reached through classroom lessons and a poster contest. Results exceeded expectations and led the association to continue its engagement with the center for the 2013-2014 school year. This time, we set the bar higher and got schools to identify ambassadors that would encourage recycling education efforts and projects.

In addition to lesson plans, the updated effort included the Recycling Rangers program, which called for teachers to become recycling ambassadors.

To benefit the association’s member companies, the US was divided into regions, and members were encouraged to sponsor areas where their businesses are located. At the end of the school year, companies will be given the details of schools with ambassadors, so they can develop projects.

The results of the 2013-2014 program surpassed those of the previous year, with 1,565 teachers registering for the program and 1,485 schools now having a Recycling Ranger ambassador.

The total number of students reached by the program jumped to 556,875. This puts the association well within reach of its goal to engage more than 1 million students within the first three years of its elementary student educational project. 

Jackie King is executive director of the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association.

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