Posted ByKimberly Demucha Kalil
Recycling can be a big idea for little kids to wrap their heads around. Here are a few ways to introduce this concept to your kids, and how to encourage them to practice what you preach.
You care about recycling, but it can be a tough practice to instill in your children without resorting to nagging. However, recycling for kids is the perfect way to get them thinking about the environment and reducing the amount of waste your family sends to landfills. Here are a few tips to get your family on board with recycling.
Why Should You Recycle?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generated about 251 million tons of trash but recycled and composted almost 87 million tons of it in 2012. That translates to a recycling rate of about one-third of the trash we create, meaning we generate a lot more garbage than we recycle. Among the benefits of recycling, though, are reduced pollution, conservation of energy, preservation of our natural resources and space savings in landfills.
"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?" says Erin Pruss, a senior marketing vice president at Recyclebank. "I bet if you asked your kids where it goes, they might say something like, 'I dunno, you throw it away.' But where is away?" Pruss, who has two young children, explains that most trash ends up being hauled to a landfill, probably, where most -- if not all -- of it will still be sitting around even when your kids have kids of their own.
Teaching Your Kids to Recycle
The very first step to getting your kids to recycle is talking to them about its importance and showing them how much recycling means to you. "Kids are like sponges -- they soak up knowledge, habits and choices," says Chase Ezell, a managing editor at Earth911. "Introducing recycling at an early age will increase the likelihood that those behaviors as a child will become a part of their everyday lives as an adult. " So now's the time to get them started.
Show your kids through your own actions the different steps you take to recycle or protect our planet. Less talk and more action is the key here. "Children learn best by watching, listening and absorbing information," Ezell says. "Talking about being eco-friendly and taking care of the planet won't be much use if you buy bottled water by the caseload. The most powerful thing you can do to impart the importance of eco-friendly living is by consistently doing it yourself."
Recycling for Kids Made Easy
Now that your kids are thinking more about the trash they produce, you can start talking about ways they can reduce, reuse and recycle to create less garbage. Pruss suggests you enlist the help of your kids whenever you're actively recycling. Sorting recyclables into different bins can be made into a fun game -- see who can sort items the fastest, or who can throw plastic bottles into the bins from the farthest distance.
You can also turn recycling into something creative. Get crafty, reusing items that might have otherwise ended up in the garbage. "Kids are so creative and can invent great second lives for so many used items," Pruss says. "Paper towel rolls become binoculars, egg crates become great containers for sorted beads, bottles become piggy banks or airplanes ... it's an opportunity to let kids' creativity soar while teaching reuse."
Your kids will outgrow their clothes and toys, so have them recycle those as well. Pass them along to a younger friend, sibling or cousin. Be open to accepting and using these sorts of items when they come to you. If you have outdoor space, try composting. Pruss suggests starting a compost area in your backyard to transform your household garbage into fertilizer for your garden. Add grass, leaves, paper, food wastes (no meat, fish or dairy products) and coffee grounds to the composter and watch as nature creates something that you can use to grow healthy food to eat.
Most important of all, make it easy. "The key to making recycling at home practical is to make it easy," Ezell says. "Families are incredibly busy these days. Time is a precious resource, too. Anything you can do to make recycling simple and less time consuming is sure to increase your chances of a successful recycling program at home."
For more planet-friendly goodness, head on over to How to Compost 101.
Kimberly DeMucha Kalil is a freelance journalist and software consultant living in Southern Arizona with her husband and two children.