Children making Greece cleaner

Around 15,000 Greek children from across the country, from the islands of Mytilene and Ios, the towns of Argos and Patras in the Peloponnese, Siatista and Komotini in the north and Rethymnon on the island of Crete, are playing an active part in finding ways to reduce the country’s future garbage mountains and raising awareness of the issue in their local communities. The children are participants in a successful program run by the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature (HSPN), which held its 1st Panhellenic Pupils’ Conference late last year. Pupils from kindergarten to senior high met in Athens to present their work and take part in working groups. According to Aliki Vavouri of the HSPN, the children’s enthusiasm for their projects is largely due to the input of inspired teachers, many of whom give up much of their free time to work with their charges on the program. Cleopatra Hadzicosta teaches at the 13th Primary School in Keratsini, near Piraeus. «Programs like ‘Nature without Garbage’ are what Greece needs more than anything. We are a very dirty country,» Hadzicosta told Kathimerini English Edition. «All schools should have the program. Of all places, schoolyards should be free of garbage. We began with our own schoolyard and then moved out to the natural environment. We also made a study of our garbage, weighed it and categorized it to decide which objects could be recycled, or how much energy is being wasted – for example, how many trees could have been saved. Children only become aware of things when they have specific examples. You can’t convince them with words. It is very important, both at school and at home if there is an adult who cares about the environment, otherwise why should the children care? The school has a very important role to play in this area, and children bring the example home with them.» Hadzicosta, who has been involved in the «Nature without Garbage» program from the outset, says it has not only raised children’s environmental awareness but has also had a beneficial impact on their general behavior. «We have had a positive response from parents,» said Athanasios Bakastathis, a teacher at the 55th State Primary School in Patras, which is currently working on a program to make the school environment sustainable, including water and energy conservation. «They tell us that their children have made them think about things such as not letting the tap run while their father is shaving, and so on.» These children are currently making two short films on these issues, which will be shown in June at an event organized by the prefecture of Achaia to mark World Environment Day on June 5. As its title suggests, the «Nature without Garbage» program aims to raise awareness about the need for a clean environment through proper waste management. Begun in 1996 with the help of a group of volunteers, its purpose was not simply the collection of garbage during visits to a particular area, but generally to make people, not only children, aware of the problem. Volunteer groups from schools work with local authorities to protect and improve sites and draw attention to «aesthetic pollution» generally. Less garbage from all Volunteers in the program put forward suggestions such as buying durable goods that can be reused, products with packaging that can be easily recycled, and generally not buying more things than one really needs. People should buy larger quantities of products that have a long shelf life, but only small quantities of perishable goods, just as much as one needs for a short period of time. If some piece of equipment stops working, an attempt should be made to repair it rather than just tossing it out. Efforts should also be made to recycle materials that are in short supply, such as paper, aluminium and glass, or difficult to reconstruct, such as plastic. Composting organic waste is an important way to reduce the volume of household garbage, as is giving away unwanted but useful objects such as books, pictures and records to schools and others that may want them. Clothing, games and other household items in good condition can be given to those in need of them Children at the junior high school on the island of Ios have taken part in beach cleanups, tree planting, recycling programs and have held conferences on the environment for local residents. Kindergarten pupils from Melissia, northern Athens, put on a play showing why batteries should be recycled. Another kindergarten in Keratsini, near Piraeus, developed a program to show how to prevent unnecessary waste while cooking, from the moment the food is bought to the recycling of packaging material and composting of waste. A junior high school in Rethymnon, Crete, showed how people’s lifestyles (taking as their example a family of hotel owners and a farming family) harmed their environment, and how their children found solutions and alternative ways to make their ways of life sustainable. The HSPN is to award prizes to volunteer groups in the «Nature without Garbage» program at the Athens Hilton on May 12 at 9.30 a.m., when the groups will make brief presentations of their work.

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