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Because You Asked

How Can I Teach My Kids the Importance of Recycling?

By Recyclebank |
Instilling a love for the outdoors at an early age is one of the best ways to encourage sustainable habits, like recycling.


Dear Recyclebank: I’ve always known that recycling is better for the environment, and filling up landfills is not a good idea, but now I’m faced with convincing my teenage son. He read somewhere that recycling produces more pollution than creating new products, and now he refuses to recycle. How do I convince my hardheaded son the importance of recycling and other environmental efforts? –Rachel K.

Dear Rachel: If, as the incomparable Whitney Houston claims, children really are our future, we understand your desire to make sure they understand the importance of protecting and improving the world they’ll be inheriting. For this reason, it’s important to teach them the value of being environmentally responsible and to involve them in the actions we take to protect our environment. And as we head into a new year, there is no time like the present to get the whole family involved in recycling, energy conservation, and other sustainable habits.

To find out how parents and educators can best educate and involve kids in sustainability, we spoke with James McGirt, Manager of Education Programs for Project Learning Tree, an organization that advances environmental literacy and promotes stewardship via education, professional development, and curriculum resources.

“A good way to start is to make young learners more aware of how their daily actions can improve or hurt the environment,” he says. “It’s of paramount importance to clearly and tangibly illustrate to them that things they do, such as throwing away trash every day, impact the environment, and ways the amount of waste they generate can be reduced.”

McGirt says that one of the best ways to instill environmental awareness is to raise kids who love to be outside. Kids who play outside, ride bikes, garden, swim in lakes and oceans, and camp will grow up to be adults who make environmentally sound choices. Gifting them with a love for the great outdoors also will put a positive spin on sustainability, rather than burdening kids with doomsday facts and future scenarios.

As for those teens that might be less than enthusiastic about participating in sustainability, McGirt says, “I routinely express to teens that I believe that as human beings we have a moral obligation to make the world a better place than how we found it.” He says that many people — including teens — get caught up by the enormity of the environmental challenges and end up losing sight of the fact that it’s all about the little daily steps we can take.

“It’s important to give teens the opportunity to serve as leaders in the quest for environmental awareness and action,” says McGirt.

And more specifically for your “hardheaded” son, Rachel: Since he thinks that adding to landfills is better than using the energy to create products from recyclables, it might help to point him to information about how landfills produce harmful greenhouse gases, and to stand by the fact that recycling goods does save energy, raw materials, and natural resources. He’s not alone in questioning the recycling process, which is why we’ve responded to his exact concern before.

No matter where your kids are in the recycling learning process, there are fun ways to get your kids involved in recycling and reducing waste at home:

  • Let them pick out a fun reusable water bottle to use instead of buying bottled water. Having a personalized style helps kids (and adults) feel a sense of ownership over their sustainable choice.
  • Involve them in sorting the recyclables. Little kids can look for the recycling symbol or the plastic number codes on packages.
  • Start a compost pile in the backyard and let the kids be the ones who turn the compost tumbler or add scraps. It’s a gross-but-cool learning experience to watch how the organic waste decomposes, and to spot the occasional worm helping the process along.

Take a household waste-reduction challenge: Set a goal to see if you can reduce the amount of landfill-bound trash that your family generates each week. Weigh your trash as a baseline, then try to recycle, reuse, or shop smarter each week to throw out less and less trash. If you succeed, have a family celebration — an eco-friendly one, of course, like riding bikes to a favorite ice cream place!

How are you helping to educate and involve your kids in being more sustainable? Share your tips in the comments.
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  • Barbara W. 16 days ago
    Who was it that had a Birthday on "June 10th" Carrie maybe?
    I told them Happy Birthday.

    I should have started up with the question," what is your favorite cake"?
    I like pineapple upside-down cake among many others.
  • Steven S. 16 days ago
    Posted Sunday, June 12, 2022
  • Barbara W. 16 days ago
    Hot hot HOT, on 6-11-22 the Heat Index in Okla was *107. ( my area)
    For 6-12-22 the prediction for Heat Index is *111.
    That is dangerous and makes me sick -literally.
    It is supposed to be similar all week for up to 10 days of the same!
    I can't think at that temp.
    Hope it is cooler where ever you are!
    • Debra D. 16 days ago
      Tried posting yesterday and said to reboot ,refresh , so did and nothing....Anyway, we have had nothing but RAIN! AND MORE RAIN, ... My neighbor across the street has a home that is next to one of our HOA's common areas . It has rained so much she has a small lake in which many ducks are now inhabiting , along with many frogs! She says the coyotes are using as a watering hole as well, setting off her dogs barking at them nightly. We will be getting a 80 degree day maybe this coming weekend.... Too high of heat for you and too much rain with no heat here..
    • Barbara W. 16 days ago
      We had lots of rain storms 'on and on' also, but they have Finally stopped the other day! Now it's the Humidity and HEAT.
      Long ago I lived in Az, it gets really hot there, but it's a Dry heat.
      The humidity here ( right now) can curl/frizz up even straight hair, like in the South. We do not usually have it this bad this early.
      Texas is HOT too.

      That standing water you're talking about, what about mosquitos?
      Is the ground around your house able to absorb the moisture?
      I saw on TV where some lettuce crops are ruined due to all the water. How is your garden doing?

      I like 60 -80 degrees, I can tolerate up to 85.
      By 90 I am miserable! In the 100's is unthinkable.
      Humidity is awful, and the HEAT INDEX is what counts ( feels like)
      The last time I remember this bad was the summer of 2011, but that was in July /Aug.
      " I don't belong here," I run away from home but I am too old and tired to go. ahahhhhaaaaaaa
    • Barbara W. 16 days ago
      Check my favorite cake question above!
    • Debra D. 15 days ago
      Love pineapple upside down cake, have an amazing recipe if you need one! Also lemon bundt cakes
    • Debra D. 15 days ago
      ground is soggy, especially lower level. my husband built a french drain many years ago. Just a tunnel dug out with pipe and rock pebble. he cleaned it out of extra grass growing over and used a a water hose to clean out a part o have fairly good drainage. no worries for mosquitos My Tomatoes are doing amazing, something is eating the red pepper plant, acorn squash and zucchini are flowering and looking good! My lettuce that I planted was in raised self watering planter on deck, with plastic zippered greenhouse. I was worried more about rabbits this year. I already planted and harvested French Breakfast radishes. lettuce is extra wet and got little gnats on soil as not drying out, bought a product from nursery to help with that.
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  • Donna D. 4 months ago
    another link for points
  • bunni r. 4 months ago
    Lead by example
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