Most kids learn that you should recycle plastic water bottles and paper — and that’s often the extent of their recycling education. However, there’s quite a bit more to recycling than putting these items in blue bins. As a parent, you have the opportunity to teach your child how to be an environmentally responsible human early on in life. By instilling in your child a strong sense of environmental ethics, you can provide them the knowledge they need to minimize their carbon footprint, and can help make eco-friendliness second nature to them.
Although there are a great number of benefits to teaching your child to recycle, it’s not always easy for children to understand complex topics like sustainability. Therefore, it’s important to use child-friendly teaching strategies to help them recognize when and how to recycle, and encourage them to participate in other environmentally friendly practices.
Teaching the Benefits of Recycling
Recycling is something that happens everywhere: at home, in school or other public areas, and in the outdoors. Even when you try to be eco-friendly at home, it can be difficult to avoid using single-use plastics altogether in day-to-day life, so it’s important to teach your child how to recycle in all areas. However, at home is where the lessons all start.
Recycling at Home
When your child is old enough, introducing them to recycling at home is the best way to build their foundational knowledge about recycling. A good first lesson is to create an assortment of trash and recyclables on a table, and have them help you separate the two into their respective bins. This gives them the chance to see and hear about what items are recyclable and which ones are not, and to ask questions about why.
As you teach your kids to recycle, you should emphasize the importance of properly sorting items to avoid contaminating the recycling. Just a tiny amount of a product that doesn’t belong can make an entire bale of plastic or cardboard unrecyclable. Whereas recycling used to be more of a “when in doubt, recycle it” mindset that would count on those in the back end to figure it out, last year’s China ban, which essentially accepts no amount of contaminated recyclables, has changed this rule to “when in doubt, throw it in the trash.”
But this doesn’t mean that recycling is a lost cause now; it will just take learning your local ordinances and being extra mindful. As you’re teaching them the basics of recycling, become familiar with your city’s rules and follow some general best practices, which are:
- Whether you’re recycling juice bottles, soda cans, milk jugs, or thick plastic containers, it’s always best to rinse it out before recycling it.
- Plastics are often recyclable, but check your local recycling center’s allowances and restrictions, as well as check the packaging for the arrows sign and number before you put it in the recycling in case it has special recycling instructions.
- Almost all metals are recyclable; however, bigger products may need to be sent to a scrap yard or other location for large-scale recycling.
- Paper is almost always recyclable, no matter how much ink is printed on it, but it shouldn’t be stained by food, and it needs to be whole pieces of paper.
It’s also important to teach your child about the difference between when items are recyclable and when they are not. Although most paper is usually recyclable, shredded paper cannot be recycled. Small bits of paper often fall through the screens where paper is placed to be recycled, and therefore, end up not being recycled when mixed in with other recycling. However, some recycling services do recycle shredded paper if it is separated into its own bag.
To really ingrain recycling into your child, it helps to expose them to as many recycling situations as possible. Some fun recycling field trip ideas could include a trip to the junkyard, where a child could see a car smashed down into tiny pieces and learn that it’s possible to recycle 98% of a vehicle. You could also take them to some deserted beaches, where they could see the trash that comes up on shore and learn about how polluted our oceans are.
These are good environmental concepts to teach children that may help them understand the magnitude of human waste and why it’s so important not to be a part of it. As important as teaching your child to recycle is, you shouldn’t stop there. Teaching them sustainable concepts, like the importance of refurbishing furniture when possible, or donating clothes instead of throwing them away in order to decrease waste are also important lessons.
Motivating Your Child to Recycle
Children are fast learners, and often highly empathetic, which makes them receptive to social and environmental issues. However, depending on their age, motivating them to recycle might take some extra work. It is not uncommon for children to be a little selfish throughout their childhood, and they may simply not want to put in the extra work to recycle. Therefore, consider having some heart-to-hearts with them to get them in the earth-conscious mindset.
You can also make recycling fun for them by using games to help them learn to recycle. One game that works great is a scavenger hunt for recyclable items. This can help kids get excited about finding items around the home that they may have previously considered trash and encourage them to recycle. At the end of the scavenger hunt, you can give them each prizes based on however many items they collect.
Whether you gift them a nice reusable water bottle so they never think about using plastic ones, or make recycling a part of their weekly chores to earn an allowance, providing incentives for recycling can prevent them from thinking twice about reducing their waste. As eco-friendliness becomes a part of their lifestyle growing up, your child will see the world in the way it should be seen: the planet is our home, and we need to take care of it if we want it to be able to take care of us.