The summer was slowly coming to an end.
Rascal, Tola and Pola were on a beach, enjoying the last hot days of the year. They had a lot of fun burying their paws in the sand and pretending that they were mermaids. Digging into the sand, they were constantly coming across little “treasures”.
‘Oh, look, a bottle cap!’ called Rascal cheerfully. He tossed the bottle cap high up in the air and then threw it into Tola’s new mermaid fin. A minute later Tola found an old sand shovel. The kitten started to pile the sand on Rascal’s fin.
‘You’re not going to escape now. You will stay on the beach forever! You’re in a sand jail!’ She laughed.
‘No way!’ Rascal wanted to show his friend that he was strong enough to free himself from the piled sand. He leapt to his feet and turned to Tola to tickle her. She freed her paws from the sand and started to run.
‘You won’t catch me!’ she called.
‘I will, you’ll see!’ warned Rascal.
He laughed cheerfully, running fast after Tola. Indeed, he was coming closer and closer. When she was within a paw’s reach and he was about to catch her, he felt something hard under his paw and… bam! He took a nosedive in the sand.
‘Aaagh, aaagh! What is this?!’ yelled Rascal in an angry voice. ‘It hurts!’
Rascal’s paw had slipped into an empty peanut can. It took the doggy a while to take it off. His paw was scratched but, luckily, it didn’t look bad.
‘Oh man! Why are people throwing litter all around? This beach is a huge dumpsite! A bottle cap, an old sand shovel… and now this can!’ Rascal was fed up with all the litter on the beach, either small or big. He went back to Pola, hobbling a little.
Rascal went back to Pola, hobbling. He was about to lay down on the sand to rest, when the owl suddenly grabbed him and Tola by their paws and pulled them down.
‘Get down! A monster!’ she yelled.
The friends landed face-down in the sand which covered them. Although its grains fell into their eyes, they quickly raised their heads to look in the direction from which the monster was coming. Pola was right! It was a real monster! And it was coming close. Emerging from the sea, it resembled a hybrid of a seal, a bird, and an octopus.
‘Run,’ whispered Tola, but it was already too late for that. The monster was too close.
Finally, when the abomination was only a few steps from the three friends, Pola and Rascal jumped from beneath the sand and started to yell. Rascal was shaking his paws while Pola was waving her wings.
‘Boo!!! Don’t get any closer!!! Leave us alone!!! Aaargh!’ they yelled.
They looked more funny than scary, as their eyes were covered with sand and they barely managed to keep them open.
You won’t believe what happened then! The monster stopped, seeing the shouting friends. But instead of breathing fire and petrifying them with its sight like a basilisk, it lowered its head and wept.
‘Help me, please… I’m no monster…’
At first, the three friends didn’t hear the creature. But when they realised that the monster wasn’t going to attack them, they stopped yelling and looked at each other, astonished. Only then did they hear what the sea creature was saying.
‘If you are not a monster… then what are you?’ they asked the creature. How to react to a monster who doesn’t want to harm you?
‘My name’s Clara and I’m a seal. I need your help. That’s why I came to you, to the beach.’ Clara made a few steps towards them and told them her story. ‘Several days ago, when I was hunting for fish, I swam into something truly strange. It wrapped around my neck and it doesn’t come off. I can’t catch fish anymore because they all hear me coming. And I can barely speak, it’s clutched so tightly around my throat. Can you help me?’
When the seal explained what had happened, the three friends realised their mistake. What Pola, Tola and Rascal got scared of wasn’t a frightful beak of a bird. It was a piece of plastic that was wrapped around Clara’s neck. From up close, it looked like Swiss cheese, but it was a type of plastic holder for multiple cans or bottles.
‘My poor seal!’ meowed Tola. ‘Of course we can help you!’ Saying so, Tola, with the help of Rascal and Pola, freed Clara from the plastic trap.
Although she was grateful for help, seals don’t like the company of other animals; so Clara hugged the three friends and quickly swam back into the Baltic Sea. She waved to them from the distance.
Pola, Tola, and Rascal were truly concerned with what had happened to Clara.
‘We need to do something,’ said Pola firmly. ‘We can’t let that happen again. We have to do something with all the litter swimming in the sea, suffocating other animals and preventing them from moving freely.’
‘You’re right,’ agreed Rascal. ‘If everyone scatters their litter all around instead of segregating it, there will be a disaster!’
‘But what can we do?’ The three friends started to wonder.
‘I’ve got an idea!’ said Pola and went back towards their holiday house.
The three friends spent the rest of the day painting, cutting things out and gluing them together. Late that night, when everyone else was asleep, they went back to the beach. Wherever they could, they hung up bits of paper and placed strange shapes in the sand. What had they done? The holiday-makers found it out in the morning.
Glass is white, paper is blue;
Want to join our Eco-Patrol?
We want you!
Plastic is yellow, organic is brown;
Our Eco-Patrol won’t let you down!
All the notice boards were covered with posters containing slogans the three friends had come up with the night before. Every slogan instructed what type of rubbish should be thrown into different bins. They also encouraged children to join their new initiative – the Eco-Patrol. Everyone who was eager to help could come to the meeting. But this wasn’t all. Bins in 5 different colours were placed on the beach every 100 metres!
The yellow bin had a sticker on it with a painting of a plastic bottle and a metal can. On the white-green bin, there was a glass bottle. On the blue one Pola painted a newspaper, which symbolised paper. The brown bin was decorated with a painting of a banana peel, and on the black one the inscription said “other rubbish”. Everyone who came to the beach was surprised to see the bins and the posters. Still, they seemed happy with the idea.
The meeting of the Eco-Patrol took place at noon. Tola, Pola, and Rascal gave the children orange bandanas and whistles. The task of the Eco-Patrol was to watch over the beach and not let people leave their rubbish on the sand. If anyone from the Eco-Patrol saw someone misbehaving and burying the rubbish in the sand, or throwing it into wrong bins, they had to whistle as a warning. They also had to encourage the person to behave in a proper way and explain why segregating is so important.
What a day! You could hear a whistle at the beach every 5 minutes.
‘Excuse me! I guarantee you that no apple tree will grow from an apple core buried in the sand. Please, throw it into the bin with organic waste,’ a 4-year-old squirrel instructed a bear who wanted to dispose of the remnants of an apple.
‘Excuse me, miss! The bin is not a magnet, it won’t attract metal bottle caps. Throw them into the yellow bin, please!’ said Rascal, seeing someone picking up their blanket and pretending that they didn’t see bottle caps falling into the sand.
‘Hey, you! This plastic bag is not a fish, it’s place is not in the sea!’ called a fawn, seeing two children who had tried to catch fish in a plastic bag and threw it into the water after it split.
The Eco-Patrol spent the whole day digging out rubbish that had been left on the beach days before. Initially, all adults were astonished, seeing the commotion. The children were so little, but still, they were making so much noise! They were constantly whistling and whistling, couldn’t they be quiet and tidy everything up themselves? However, at the end of the day, when they saw the beach was clean, everyone applauded and congratulated the Eco-Patrol on their work.
‘Great job!’ said even the people who had not been eager to clean up and had “accidentally” left straws, tissues, and pips on the beach.
The members of the Eco-Patrol were proud of themselves. The team of volunteers were looking forward to seeing a garbage truck team’s astonishment at how much rubbish they had managed to segregate. They waited until the evening. When they saw the flickering lights of the garbage truck, they jumped with excitement. They were convinced that they would be praised for what they had achieved! Imagine their surprise when the dustman Jarvis looked into the bin with plastic waste and yelled to his friend, ‘mixed waste. Take it Rick!’
Then, he opened the bins with glass and paper and yelled the same thing.
‘Mixed waste. Take it Rick!’
‘Wait, what?’ called Rascal in an angry voice. Why was the man saying it was mixed waste? ‘We spent the whole day segregating the litter and now you are putting it all together as mixed waste? It says clearly here, blue – paper, yellow – plastic.’
He wanted to add more, but Mr Jarvis opened the white-green bin and nodded at Rascal to come closer.
‘Do you see spectacles and a glass inside?’ he asked.
‘Yes… but they are made from the same material,’ answered Rascal.
‘Hah, yeah. But this glass melts at a different temperature, so it can’t be thrown into glass bins. Even if we carry it to the recycling plant, we can’t make any new bottles out of it. It would be so fragile that it would break instantly. Also, the glass bin is not a place for spectacles or tableware. You can’t throw plates, cups, glasses, or cocktail glasses into this bin.’
Saying so, Mr Jarvis opened the blue bin with paper.
‘Here we surely didn’t make any mistakes!’ squeaked the hedgehog, who’d checked twice to see if anybody had thrown plastic or glass waste into this bin.
‘Do you see wet and dirty tissues, and a greasy paper from the fish place?’ asked the dustman.
‘Yes… but paper should go into the blue bin,’ answered the hedgehog.
‘You’re right, but we can’t mix wet and greasy paper with dry and clean paper. Everything gets dirty then and this makes recycling more difficult. Paper must be clean!’
Seeing the sad expressions on the children’s faces, Jarvis spoke in a more friendly voice.
‘Listen, I’m glad that you wanted to change something and started segregating litter. Now, I will help you take a step further. We will show everyone how to properly segregate waste. Only then can it be recycled. I know it sounds complicated, but you’ll see it’s easier done than said. I’m sure together we will find a way to teach others how to segregate waste.’
The members of the Eco-Patrol, together with Jarvis, went back to the holiday house.
Again, they spent the whole night working. Some of them were busy cutting out shapes, others were painting. Someone brought the bins and then placed them back on the beach. Every bin had information about what can and can’t be thrown into it. Also, friends added notes saying what can be made from certain types of waste in the process of recycling.
The next day, Rascal stopped near one of the bins and smiled widely, seeing a slogan he had coined himself.
What funny thing do you think he came up with? Maybe you too will join the Eco-Patrol and place proper eco-bins in your home, your kindergarten, or at the playground?
The tale was prepared within Kids for Eco-Action Project, co-financed by the Governments of Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia through Visegrad Grants from International Visegrad Fund. The mission of the fund is to advance ideas for sustainable regional cooperation in Central Europe.