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Primary school litter-picking programme inspiring and empowering the next generation of environmentalists

Inspiring young environmentalists, one litter picking adventure at a time

Primary school children in Waterford are taking a stand against litter in their area, through a unique school based litter-picking programme called Picker Pals. The programme, run by environmental NGO VOICE (Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment) motivates and equips children with “Picker Packs” containing everything children need to go litter-picking. At the end of Picker Pals’ first year in operation, 6 Waterford schools, along with 109 schools from 9 different local authority areas are involved in the programme. “VOICE is delighted that Waterford City and County Council are funding the programme locally and supporting this very exciting journey, which aims to see a Picker Pack in every classroom in the country over the coming years,” says Mindy O’Brien Co-ordinator of VOICE.

Using upcycled and fully reusable packaging, Picker Pals provide each classroom with bespoke story and activity books, in both Irish and English, and picker-uppers which are taken home by a different child every week. Each child goes on a litter-picking adventure in their local area with their family and reports back to their classmates on their activity.  The Picker Pals song helps spread the message about tackling litter in a fun and upbeat manner to motivate children to get involved in this important social and environmental issue. “It’s not just about learning about litter. It’s not just about becoming aware of litter. It’s about actually getting out there and picking up litter. Picker Pals gets children onto the first rung of the environmental ladder,” says Patrick Jackson, Picker Pals Creator.

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a marked increase in the amount of litter in our towns and cities. Waterford City and County Council are working hard to address the issue of litter. “We make litter picking equipment available throughout the year to schools, community groups and individuals carrying out a clean-up of their local area. The Picker Pals programme supplements our litter programme and has been especially valuable during the last few months. It has helped to strengthen our environmental message in schools at a time when we are unable to visit them ourselves. It also helps children to understand how they can make simple, positive changes in their own neighbourhood. The initiative is not about cleaning up the whole neighbourhood but to pick up a few items of litter and engage in conversation around the issue of littering,” said Ella Ryan, Environmental Awareness Officer at Waterford City and County Council.

St Mary’s Primary School in Dungarvan is seeing many of the same benefits. “The girls in our school are really enjoying being involved in the Picker Pals programme. They are very keen to play their part in looking after their local environment and are having great fun with their families while doing so. We are delighted to be part of this great new programme,” said Fiona Fitzgerald, Principal at St. Mary’s.

Despite the fact that schools are out for the next few weeks, Picker Pals can still provide the perfect break from online learning and home schooling. Litter-picking can become part of people’s home schooling experience and give everyone a good reason to get out of the house, to get some fresh air, and to make the world better.

Litter-picking can provide many benefits. In Waterford, the combination of the council and concerned groups’ actions sees Waterford City ranked 8th in terms of cleanliness out of 37 towns and cities across Ireland, in the latest IBAL litter survey.  Angela Kenny, Picker Pals Project Manager talks about other benefits from litter-picking activities. “Litter-picking can have a really positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing, getting people out of the house, relieving stress and anxiety and giving a great sense of achievement and empowerment. It is a perfect lockdown activity.”

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