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Environmental Education at the Landfill

Today we went to an open house tour of our city dump. I forgot to bring the camera, so you’ll have to imagine lots of interesting pictures of giant garbage trucks dumping trash into a 20 meter high mountain of old mattresses, plastic bags, disposable diapers and junked couches. It was a really educational experience for me, and while I don’t think Beatrice, who’s 3 years old, really understood fully what it means to be burying waste in the ground, I hope she learned something today too.

The landfill used by the city of Vancouver is pretty nice, as landfills go. They use the methane and carbon dioxide gas produced by the decomposing waste to heat greenhouses. Teams of bird control staff deter seagulls by using trained falcons and hawks to scare them off. (Apparently there may be up to 100,000 seagulls at the landfill in the winter. Can you even imagine what 100,000 seagulls looks and sounds like? I can’t.) The “leachate,” or liquid waste that drains through the soil, is captured by a set of deep double ditches and is sent to the water treatment plant before being released.

The tour was even nicer. We were driven past the active landfill site, gas capture facility, composting area and recycling bays in huge, luxury tour coaches. Safe in our air-conditioned bus we looked out as bald eagles and hawks dive bombed for rats and two women stood atop a mountain of garbage and waved a plastic bag on a stick to scare away the seagulls and prevent them from strewing the garbage around. We couldn’t smell anything gross, we didn’t have to look at the actual contents of the waste in that mountain, and our senses were restricted to watching the scene unfold as if it were a movie.

I wanted to bring Beatrice to the dump so she could see where our garbage goes after we put it out in the wheelie bin on the curb. I want her to know that it doesn’t just disappear, and that disposing it is not a perfect process. I’m proud to see that our city is working towards a more sustainable waste management program. Seeing all the massive heaps of lawn waste and dead leaves gradually transforming themselves into compost made me glad. Our tour guide told us that a lovely little lake just beside the landfill is actually safe to swim in, and even though I’m not quite sure I believe that 100%, I am glad that steps are being taken to protect the groundwater and environment surrounding our local landfill. However, I wanted her to see a little more of the gritty side of things. It’s pretty easy to feel comfortable about waste management when you’re sitting high up in a luxury coach, well away from the actual garbage.

What kind of things do you to do teach your child about environmental stewardship? How do you find a balance between comfortably holding waste management at arm’s length and getting your hands dirty when it comes to teaching small children?

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  • Dionna @ Code Name: Mama June 6, 2010, 6:05 am

    Wow – what a fancy tour for a garbage dump! That’s an excellent idea for a “field trip” – I’m part of a preschool learning cooperative, and we have to come up with class ideas every quarter. I’ll have to look into whether one of our local dumps allows tours (although somehow I doubt there will be a luxury tour coach involved!).
    .-= Dionna @ Code Name: Mama´s last blog ..The Joys of Breastfeeding a Toddler #9 =-.

  • michelle June 6, 2010, 10:08 am

    I was a little surprised by the coaches too, but it was certainly the easiest way to transport lots of people from the main open house area (with face painting, music, food, etc) along the road to the active landfill site.

    I have been thinking about trying to organize a tour for preschoolers to our local water treatment plant too, but I don’t know how much there would be to see! At least talking about these things plants the seeds of awareness and when kids are older we can discuss the details a bit more.

  • jenny @ let the children play June 7, 2010, 5:24 pm

    Oooh, we did this too (only we call it a ‘tip’ over here, instead of a ‘dump’). We take our preschoolers every year to our local tip and they love it – there is a fabulous eco-garden there, and we tour the tip and see all the piles of recyclables and the big trucks. Here’s a link to my post if you are interested:
    .-= jenny @ let the children play´s last blog ..nature play friday: inspiring nature play tips for preschoolers =-.