04 September 2023

Lifting the lid on steel recycling to the delight of UK schoolchildren and local communities

Eleanor Shorland
Packaging Recycling Education Officer, Tata Steel UK

"In a world without steel, could Minecraft diamond pickaxes be used to drill for oil?"

"Do recycled bicycle frames come encrusted with baked beans if you don’t clean your tins properly before recycling them?"

"Are recycled steel products made from tomato soup tins red?"

Sound familiar? If so, you must have attended one of my educational workshops promoting the benefits of steel packaging recycling. Many thanks for attending and for enjoying some of the more unusual questions that younger audiences have asked me over the last few years (as seen above). I certainly have!

That said, the subject of the workshops couldn't be more serious. Focused on the role of steel packaging in our everyday lives - and the importance of recycling it - my mission is to drive meaningful change at grass roots level. 

Educating school children is an effective way to encourage them - and their families - to adopt good habits and change bad ones. Educating adult communities is equally effective to this end. And if we all adopt the right purchasing and recycling habits, together we can increase recycling rates, and radically reduce food waste and landfill. 

Zoom on the schools education programme

Today’s primary school children are interested, engaged and impressively well-informed about environmental issues. They are the first generation to have grown up on a regular diet of recycling messages and best practices. And they are far from an easy crowd. They ask challenging questions and I always make a point of painting a full and accurate picture for them. 

My approach is to educate and engage the children without overwhelming them. I tailor the presentation to their age, the topics they’ve been studying, and the specific requests of their teachers. If there’s a local steel history angle, I incorporate it. And I invite the children to interact with me - asking questions and contributing their comments - throughout our journey of discovery. 

Surprise plays an important part in engaging young audiences. The children are always amazed to learn of the breadth of benefits delivered by canned food in particular. Think: a shelf life of up to five years, convenient storage at ambient temperature, solid protection against spoiling and breakages, not to mention the flavour and nutrition benefits that are locked in at source... When I flag up tinned food’s potential to dramatically reduce food waste, jaws drop. 

Equally, the children are generally astonished to learn that steel can be recycled infinitely with zero loss of quality. It’s a very compelling argument! 

Curiosity is another way to capture the imagination of school children. The hands-on activities – such as using magnets to discover which everyday items are made from steel vs. aluminium - provide useful discussion points about the differences between these two materials and their respective advantages. Children and teachers alike are usually particularly interested in whether we should remove the plastic lid and trigger on aerosols before recycling them. (Yes to the first and no to the second!) 

The lifecycle of steel also fascinates the children. So we always talk about its journey from raw material to product on the shop shelves, to its place in our home then the recycling bin, and back to the steel works to be repurposed into a new steel product. 

So what’s next?

As you’ll have noticed, I’m passionate about my campaign to drive meaningful change, in terms of promoting steel packaging purchasing choices and recycling habits. And our workshops are making a real difference. 

To further ramp up the campaign - in close collaboration with Metal Matters and local councils – we will continue to bring our valuable messages to school children and adult groups across the UK. Only last week – alongside Jon Crisp, Cambridgeshire County Council’s Waste Education Officer – we ran the workshop for a group of local school children. 

And I’m determined to extend the reach of my education mission to include more adults and young people outside the classroom. Going forwards, we’re going to invest more time promoting our messages to guide and ranger groups, holiday clubs and church youth groups, as well as local authorities. 

In addition, we’ll soon launch a page dedicated to the education programme on our website. Featuring useful information, images and a link to book a workshop, it will make it quick and easy for people to get involved. Watch this space for news of the launch date!

So there’s a lot in the pipeline. The positive feedback we get from children, their families, schools and local adult groups is extremely encouraging. I can’t wait to widen the net to bring our messages to a broader public. Exciting times!

If you’d like to learn more about our education programme or any of the other initiatives I've mentioned above, please get in touch. You can check out my posts or message me on Twitter and Facebook.


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