Teaching the next generation to fight rising tide of plastic pollution

Research underlines potential of working with educators and students to increase public understanding of solutions to a major global environmental problem: marine litter.

Millions and millions of tonnes of litter end up in the ocean worldwide every year. A key element to addressing the issue is facilitating a move away from today’s throwaway culture.

Recent research explored and assessed educational activities designed to empower educators and school students across Europe to more deeply consider this complex environmental issue.

Carried out as part of the MARLISCO project, this study was a collaboration between the Mediterranean Information Office for Environment, Culture and Sustainable Development in Greece and the Coastal and Marine Union in the Netherlands. Rather than focus on knowledge alone, the research team concentrated on behaviour and known determinants of behaviour.

Professor Richard Thompson, a co-author of the study published in ‘Marine Policy’, commented on this: “… while recognising the problem is one thing, increasing knowledge and changing behaviours are a far greater challenge.”

The research engaged 120 educators in an online training course on marine litter. Researchers assessed change on the basis of the group’s responses to pre- and post-course questionnaires. They found that post-training the educators felt more capable and confident of incorporating marine litter educational materials in their teaching.

A second study activity gave 341 school students (aged 7-18) from 12 European countries the chance to take part in an educational video competition on marine litter. This group also completed questionnaires before and after. The assessment revealed that the educational activity heightened students’ concerns regarding marine litter and improved their understanding of the issue, causes and impacts of marine litter. The student group also reported that after the activity they increased waste-reduction behaviours.

The findings provide strong evidence for the potential benefits of putting systematic and innovative education tools in place for both teachers and school goers. This first-of-kind quantitative assessment of attitudes to marine litter before and after an educational project underlined the potential to enhance public understanding of the pressing issue and to engage and inspire action in being a part of the solutions.

As Dr Sabine Pahl, Associate Professor at the University of Plymouth and another study co-author, noted: “It is clear that the education sector represents an important agent of social change in society.”

The MARLISCO (Marine Litter in European Seas: Social Awareness and Co-Responsibility) project adopted innovative multimedia approaches to heighten societal awareness of the threat of marine litter to marine habitats. In keeping with its focus on the importance of behaviour, it provided solid evidence of the potential of education to engage all stakeholders in finding solutions. For his part, Prof. Thompson stated: “… it is essential to educate young people now so that they and future generations can live in a world without the threat of plastic pollution.”

For more information, please see:
MARLISCO project website

last modification: 2018-04-20

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