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10 Ways To Get Your Kids To Think About Recycling

By Sebrina Zerkus Smith |
If your kids don’t know where trash goes or what happens to it, how can you expect them to care about reducing the amount they make?

If your kids don’t know where trash goes or what happens to it, how can you expect them to care about reducing the amount they make?

Kids probably don’t think much about the trash being hauled away by the garbage truck each week. I bet if you asked your kids where it goes, they might say something like, “I dunno, someplace else.”

Well, someplace else is a landfill, probably, where most - if not all - of it will still be sitting around when they have kids.

So how do you get your kids to start thinking about how much trash they generate, and how they can reduce, reuse and recycle to create less.

For starters, sweep around your own front door, as they say. For those of you who didn’t have the benefit of a colorful southern upbringing, it simply means to check your own actions before you start telling someone else what to do. I say this as a gently reminder that there is no quicker hypocrisy finder than a child.

But it’s a given that if you adopt environmentally responsible practices in your home, your kids will absorb that info without much effort. It’s like a baby learning a language. They hear it, they see it in use, they learn it. Your example will not only teach your kids about where trash ends up, but also how they can work with you to produce less garbage and make the most of everything they can recycle and reuse.

Now that you’ve set the standard for them to follow, there is still more you can do to encourage your kids to recycle. Read on.

Start Early. Even young kids can begin to learn to sort trash into recycling bins. You’re already beginning to teach them about picking up toys and throwing things away, so it’s perfect time to make sorting recyclables a fun game. Read one mom’s story at How I got my kids to recycle and love it.

Power Up. Put your kids in charge of reminding you to turn lights off when you leave a room. They'll be less likely to waste energy themselves and you can even make it a fun game by letting them pretend to issue you a ticket when you forget. From

Take it outside. Take a family trip to a local produce farm or pick-it-yourself-farm and gather up something fresh to enjoy. Seeing where food comes from helps kids understand why it's important to care for the earth. can help you find a farm near you.

Water, water everywhere. Have your kids place buckets or rain barrels under your downspouts to collect run off. Use the collected rainwater to water an organic garden or give your houseplants a drink.

Compost! Let the kids see how nature really works with the ultimate recycling project. Start a compost area in your backyard to transform your household garbage into fertilizer for your garden. Add grass, leaves, paper, food wastes and coffee grounds to the composter and watch as nature creates something that you can use to grow healthy food to eat.

Hand it down. As your kids outgrow their clothes, have them help you collect items for exchange with cousins or neighbors. You can do the same with toys and books. Give any left over items to charity.

Be thrifty. Take your child to your local thrift store and let them buy things, too. This will help them to understand the cycle of recycling. Remind them that the money used to pay for their thrift store item, along with any charitable donations, goes to help others.

Be crafty. Keep a supply box full of items like used printer paper, used ribbon, construction paper, empty cereal boxes and the like. Use it for drawing and art projects. They can draw on the back of the used printer paper, or use the reverse side of the cereal box for painting projects.

Sing Along. Kids love to sing, just like adults. And simple songs can teach as well as reinforce behavior. So the next time you’re taking out the recycling, why not break into a chorus of Jack Johnson’s anthem, The 3 R's,' for reduce, reuse, and recycle from the Curious George soundtrack? Or check out Singing For The Earth by J.P. Taylor for other ideas.

No matter how you choose to teach your kids about recycling, it’s important that they learn about it, and pass that habit along to their kids, too.


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  • vernyce d. 5 years ago
    while our fledglings left the nest long ago, they left knowing all about compost (my M.A. book project), saving reusable foil, zip bags and plastic containers. buying first at thrift stores or yard sales before (ugh) retail, changing out bulbs and lowering or raising temps depending on the seasons, having critical outdoor lighting on timers, consolidating driving errands. and that's just for starters!
  • Elaine F. 8 years ago
    All my kids know I'm obsessed about recycling. I even take home trash from the playground and recycle what I can.
  • Elaine F. 8 years ago
    All my kids know I'm obsessed about recycling. I even take home trash from the playground and recycle what I can.
  • lynn a. 9 years ago
    We really take these things for granted, great article and great way to teach kids to recycle, save the earth, do some nice things together and learn to appreciate what we have and how it grows etc.,
  • Carol C. 9 years ago
    Together with our neighbor we started a compost and the kids really love to help with this. It's a great way to involve everyone
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