Q&A.; Cancerous Coffee Cup Conundrum

Q. "A student in my class gave me a Christmas coffee mug filled with candy.  Although the gesture was sweet, the mug has a sticker that says the mug contains material that can cause cancer. What do I do with it now? I don't want to throw out a new mug, but I can't use it or give it away. I am afraid that if I keep it for a seasonal decoration I will eventually forget the warning.  Please help!!" Katy F.A. Mmmm, one of the tougher Q&As; that we've had. No simple answers here Katy. But maybe it is worth considering the martial art of Akido, where the defender uses the initiators movements to neutralise him. Or in this case, see your student's ignorance not as a negative, but rather as an opportunity. Being a teacher you have unique circumstances to provide feedback, not only to that student, but your class as whole. Am assuming you teach elementary, or primary school, who are the most receptive to environmental education.

What a perfect segue into a discussion on Cradle to Cradle, or 'where-stuff-comes-from-and-where-it-goes-to'. C2C is premised around the simple notion that for a sustainable planet we should see the world as offering only three types of materials, or what they term nutrients: 1. biodegradable (it will become soil again), 2. industrial (we can recycle it over and over and over into fresh high grade material) and 3. toxic (materials that make plants, animals, air, water and soil sick). Obviously we should only make products from the first two, and avoid that latter. This can lead to discussions on how we might know that things are toxic, or less than healthy, and thus onto labelling issues, such as the one found on your coffee cup. And maybe onto to one the hardest lessons for anyone to learn. That of actions and consequences. How every choice we make, effects the world around us, sometimes for the good, sometimes not.

Pose to your students the conundrum you face what to do with the cup now that you've enjoyed the Christmas treats. They might come up with startling answers (many deliciously impractical!) but nevertheless they will be thinking about issues of lifecycle. Which might spur heaps of other questions: Where does waste go? Why do we have to have rubbish (trash)? What eventually happens to the pet cat that died and was buried in the backyard? Does the school recycle its paper?

Or have your class write a group letter to the manufacturer and supplier asking why, in the first instance, they create products that can make people sick. The students could also ask the companies what suggestions they have for safe use and disposal of the said mug.

Encourage them that young people can have an impact to. Use the case of Severn Cullis-Suzuki, who was making waves at the tender age of just 9.

(In the event that you need a real world solution to your mug, it could be broken up and used to make a mosiac painting, or crushed up further and used as aggregate for drainage in the garden, or retained, as is, for a pencil or toothbrush holder.)

Might be prudent to elicit the approval the gift giver prior to any class study, so he/she doesn't feel a right goose.

(NB: we are not suggesting the cup pictured above contains any toxic ingredients. It is used for illustrative purposes only.)