A regular column on Treading Lightly Upon The Earth

Lessons learned in childhood will usually last a lifetime, whether it’s the names of birds and flowers or multiplication tables. So whatever we can teach our offspring about cutting down on waste and looking after our fragile planet will be worth it.

Schools are well equipped to tackle environmental issues and we, as parents, can reinforce those lessons by example.

Encouraging children to help by putting their rubbish into the right recycling box at home is a good start. It’s never too early to get them to help you carry the bucket out to the compost heap, give a hand turning it, and then help to dig the stuff into the veggie patch.

Whether it’s a box full of glass jars and bottles, or a small mountain of newspapers, envelopes, discarded junk mail, and old bills, there’s plenty to discuss when the younger members of the family get involved with cutting down the amount of rubbish produced by the household.

They can be relied upon to think laterally and this is where their input can be so interesting. Listen carefully as they discuss the issue among themselves and you could well find some good ideas emerging.

‘Let’s buy some toothpaste that doesn’t come in a cardboard box, then they aren’t wasting cardboard and ink for printing,’ and, ‘why don’t we grow our own tomatoes so that we don’t have to buy all this packaging round them?’ It is always possible that the choice of a career could be settled at the age of six, simply by a budding young scientist finding out how to make his or her own environmentally friendly toothpaste, or beginning a lifelong love affair with gardening.

Environmental awareness is nothing new, but it becomes ever more urgent as our demand for commodities like fossil fuels continues. Without causing them anxiety, our children should be encouraged to live a little more frugally than the last generation.

And while we’re at it, there’s a fantastic opportunity to try and cut down on the number of highly processed, too salty, too sugary, over-packaged snacks and cereals that make their way into the home. Everyone will be healthier as a consequence and there’ll be less litter to deal with.

As parents, we have to lead by example but it’s worth it, for those lessons will stay with our children, and they, in turn, will pass them on to their children.