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Cooperative Extension helps grow green kids By Stephanie Schupska
Going green doesn’t have to mean spending green – money, that is. In fact, being environmentally friendly can save money. And when kids get involved, they’re helping both their parents and the earth, says University of Georgia experts.

“The things we’re talking about with the kids are not big things,” said Sharon Gibson, a family and consumer sciences specialist with UGA Cooperative Extension. She and housing specialist Pamela Turner are developing a new Extension series that teaches children how to live environmentally friendly.

They are showing students how little things like making their own cleaning products can reduce the amount of chemicals in their homes and save money. (The average household spends $600 a year on cleaning supplies.) And they’re encouraging students to reuse old T-shirts and other cloth for cleaning instead of using paper products.

The students are also learning how unplugging personal appliances can save both energy and their parents about $94 a year.

“The computer, TV, microwave and other appliances are what we call energy vampires,” Gibson said. “We don’t even realize what uses energy when it’s not in use.”

They encourage students to turn the lights off when they leave the room and pick up their trash outside, teaching them how to be green by letting them see it in practice.

Sometimes that practice is to watch what’s going into the garbage can.

“We put so much into our landfills,” Gibson said, “but if we just pay attention to what we’re throwing away, we could reuse, reduce or even repurpose some of those items.”

For example, a plastic margarine spread tub can be reused to hold other foods. Or the tub can be repurposed to hold small items like paper clips and rubber bands. The amount of plastic can be reduced if families buy paper-wrapped margarine sticks.

Gibson gives a few tips on how students can be greener at home and in their classrooms. She encourages students to:

• Start a recycling project. “We’re trying to encourage people to be more thoughtful,” she said.

• Grow a garden at school or at home. Or students can talk to their school about purchasing locally-grown produce, which helps local farmers and cuts down on the gas used to haul produce from one distant location to another.

• Bring your own water bottle. “Remember that tap water is not bad water,” Gibson said.

• Pack a lunch. “Make sure to use things that you can reuse,” she said. “A reusable lunch bag and containers cut down on the trash on campus.”

• Eat foods that have less packaging. A head of lettuce uses less plastic than a bag of pre-cut lettuce. And it’s less expensive.

“A big part of being green is having kids be aware of what is going on in their communities,” Gibson said.

Visiting one of the 4-H centers across the state, students learn science in the context of the environment through the Georgia 4-H Environmental Education Program.

“When students are at our centers, we try to emphasize how where they are now is connected to where they live all the time,” said environmental education specialist Melanie Biersmith, who works at the Rock Eagle 4-H Center in Eatonton, Ga.

“While you’re here, we like to remind you that everything you do has some sort of impact,” Biersmith said.

She gives water as an example.

“The majority of Georgia water drains into five river basins on about 100 miles of coastline,” she said. “What you do in other parts of Georgia has a direct impact on the water.”

Students usually travel to 4-H centers in a part of the state different from where they live. Besides Eatonton, Georgia’s centers are located in Dahlonega (Wahsega), Hampton (Fortson), Tybee Island (Burton) and Jekyll Island (Jekyll).

To learn more about visiting a 4-H center or Green Kids Extension programming, contact your local UGA Extension office by calling 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)

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