Yesterday, I accompanied my daughter's class on a visit to London Zoo. Zoos these days major on environmentalism - preservation of endangered species, recyclable packaging of food from the caff, and all sorts of laudable aims, if you can get over the ethical issue of keeping animals in undersized cages for small children to scream at.
So it was with a sinking feeling that I received the letter from the school outlining the arrangements for the trip. Each child was to bring their lunch in a plastic bag so that it could be dumped after the food had been consumed so that the little precious sweetlings wouldn't have to carry too much. Diddums.
I hate this policy. What it means is that 30 plastic bags are dumped in landfill, plus of course the 30 plastic bottles and drinks cartons. I visualise the black bin liner containing all our detritus enduring, as some sort of morbid time capsule, until someone digs it up in several hundred years' time (if we're not all under water by then) to find out just how embarrassing was the level of waste generated by this so-called civilised society in the early 21st century.
And of course, as we sat down to eat lunch, the reality was even worse. It is astonishing how much parents spend on kids' lunches, in terms of buying individually packaged stuff that must be so much more expensive than merely buying a good old lump of something nourishing and cutting off a hearty chunk. Out came the little individual plastic packets of cheese, individually wrapped cakes, tubes of yogurt (what's THAT about??) and plastic pots of cut fruit. Not only was the packaging outrageous, the fruit was often an unholy mix of mango and pineapple and other exotics - nothing seasonal or local. What's the problem with giving a child an apple or pear? There are still some around which were grown in the UK - although so late in the season they have to be a bit suspect, I guess.
To keep their darlings' foodie fresh, parents wrap it in aluminium foil, so then non-renewable metal is also dumped in landfill. ....and as predicted, kids had drinks in all sorts of non-re-usable containers that most of them chucked away half-full.
Finally, and on a slightly different point, several kids were chomping into sandwiches of slimy looking ham - probably from Denmark or another cheap source where animal husbandry is notoriously callous. Don't get me started......
People often tell me that children 'get' the idea of recycling in a way that their parents do not. So why have all the responsible adults missed this opportunity to educate, or at least to reinforce ideas about recycling? The school, no matter what it teaches day to day in the classroom, has not only shown the children that it is ok to 'throw away' on a huge scale when it isn't really really easy to recycle, it has actually required them to do so. And to make matters even worse, parents are supplying the rubbish to be chucked out after a single use, thereby demonstrating to their children very clearly that 'stuff' has no value and that we should waste without a second thought. What a brutal lesson.
We are not an unsophisticated society, in terms of our education and our access to information. Many of us, and certainly the families from which the children on yesterday's trip were drawn, have a reasonable level of economic choice. Most are kind, humane and thoughtful.
So why do we go for the high waste options so thoughtlessly and gratuitously? I am sure that every child there is loved with intensity by his or her parents, who would protect that child from harm in every way possible. So how ironic is it that there is no consideration for the fact that by carrying on like this, we are thoughtlessly and casually trashing the planet for our children's future.