Live Green and Earn Points


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.
Share with Your Friends & Family
  • tommy b. 4 days ago
  • Randy F. 16 days ago
    Half Answer: Take child past Large Box Store with transit & foot traffic nearby and they should see a recyclable graveyard with wispy plastic bag ghosts flitting about in the breeze! The second half uses your creativity in discussion about the scary sights outside; how they're getting larger ~ Deadlier.
    Mention how the animals, fresh water, and drain pipes are affected.
    Make it age appropriate (√:
  • Debra B. 19 days ago
    Our recycle company states that it has to be placed in a see through plastic container and set next to recycling on weekly pickup. I guess that way they can see it is oil and not paint maybe. Anyway, he doesn't take it in, so even better.
  • Debra B. 20 days ago
    Come on , everyone knows that children learn by watching what adults do , from the time they are born. Practice what you preach. Recycle all that you can after reusing, reducing, etc. We recycle plastic, paper, and cardboard in one container, and glass in another. When my husband changes the oil in his truck, the used oil goes into a rinsed out gallon milk jug, and is also recycled! I am so blessed in live in Oregon where we recycle, where bottle returns are charged and therefore returned. We also have no plastic bags given out at grocery stores as of January 1st, 2020. We taught our 2 children, and now our grandchildren, to leave things cleaner than you found them. This includes camping, hiking, walking on the beach, and every day at home. Teach recycling just as you would brushing your teeth, singing the ABC's, etc. just a every day basic part of life. This way it becomes a good habit, and we could all use more of those. Happy New Year to all!
    • John J. 20 days ago
      Not a big deal but I put the used oil back in containers they came in or other containers that contained chemicals such that the containers can't be recycled (i.e. chemical leaching). A milk jug can be recycled but not after it has oil in it, plus that kind of plastic is kinda wimpy and the ol' may seep through with enough time (I suspect he takes the oil in for recycling well before that could happen).
  • Bev P. 1 month ago
    Help me teach mynkuds that the cardboard and plastics I dig out of the recycling bin are just as valid if not more so. Off to work on my recycled ornaments and will post my progress because this is working out soooo cute. I might start a trend.
  • View More