Waste Encounters

A long tree branch straddling the creek that had several leaves and wispy twigs twisted around its’ middle invited children’s experimentations. One child moved the branch back and forth across the surface of the water, saying “It’s a mop, I’m cleaning the water.” His words echoed many other conversations between children-teachers-creek-waste. We encountered broken glass, discarded plastic bottles and many other household waste items and children spoke of cleaning up the creek area.

Children’s waste encounters seem to complicate notions of what counts as waste and for whom or what it does so:

For two children, bug catchers became “trash traps” and within these traps some waste became toys; “This one is a toy I really like”…

– they might support the creek in cleaning itself?

One of the questions we are posing in this inquiry, is how can we work with children’s responses to and understandings of environmental damage to create effective and engaging new curricula and pedagogies? Children’s responses in the encounters above suggest that they already have creative ideas and responses – responses that can potentially trouble “neoliberal waste management practices”. From my perspective, children are complicating practices that focus on having waste ‘out of sight’ without attending to the ways in which waste ‘matters’, or how ‘places such as creeks respond to waste’, or ‘what else waste can be’….

– We wonder, what questions can we pose to the children to nurture these creative responses? How can trapping waste also not be a practice of “forgetting waste?

What ‘happenings’ might emerge when children are invited to represent and enact their relations with and response to creek-waste multiple ways? What happens when we pay attention to the ways children move-with creek and waste?

Children already seem to trouble the human-centered ways that adults encounter waste…they do not seem in a hurry to have waste out of sight. Instead, some children continue to fill their nets with waste and carry it around across their shoulders – while also noticing that the waste keeps returning.

“We just clean it over and over and the trash keeps coming and coming.” -L

We wonder what this image of children and waste does — what does it make visible about children’s inheritances of waste-futures?

Teachers are also drawn to the way one child engaged waste as a “lively thing” — telling waste to ‘get in there/stay in there”…