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Helping Children Understand the Importance of Recycling

Updated: May 1, 2021

Recycling has a lot of flaws and is just one part of the reduce, reuse, recycle movement. However recycling does play its part in our planet’s preservation. Introducing the idea of recycling can be a great stepping stone to other waste reduction practices like zero waste and plastic free living.

Especially for our children, recycling should be something taught early on and ingrained as a necessary step to preserving our planet. In this article, we will discuss ways to help kids understand the importance of recycling.

Teaching your kids to recycle is a good way to help ensure that the upcoming generations will grow up appreciating our planet and understand their role in preserving it.

This guest article is written by Kylie, who is the editor at Green & Growing. She enjoys the outdoors, especially when she can go on a fun hike or adventure. She likes to focus on the perks green living. She feels it is so important to take care of our earth and hope to spread more awareness as she edits and writes. Jenica Barrett, author of Zero Waste Wisdom, additionally edited this piece for content.

Recycling Made Easy electronics sorter

Teach Children Early

Don't wait until your children get older before teaching them the importance of recycling. This is one of the most important education tips you can give them. Get them in the habit of doing it early on. Trying to change their ways if they are already used to not recycling will be much more difficult to do.

There are two important factors when it comes to helping kids learn the importance of recycling.

The first thing you need to do is actually recycle in your home. Make sure that you personally are recycling and make sure that your children see this. Kids learn by example, especially from their parents or guardians. Recycling in your home is the best way to ensure that your kids do it too.

The next thing that you need to do is have a brief discussion with your children about the importance of recycling as a whole. If you aren't necessarily an expert on exactly what the benefits of recycling are, don't worry. We will cover some of the reasons that you should recycle and how to explain that them to you children in the next section.

That being said, even if you aren’t an expert in the subject, kids love to play games and a great way to teach them without “teaching them” is to turn recycling into a game! A few examples could be to see who recycles the most during the week or month without needing to be reminded. You can also chart who recycles correctly the most and have a prize at the end!

Teach Children the Benefits of Recycling

1. Recycling Saves Money

Participating in recycling programs can actually save you money. How exactly? Well, for example, water bottle companies can benefit from recycling because they simply reuse old plastic rather than pay for entirely new plastic. When the company saves money on the production of their products, they are capable of charging the consumer (you) less for the product. In turn, you will save money. Many cities also have mandatory recycling programs and you can be fined if you don’t participate. Additionally, many recycling facilities take aluminum cans and pay you by weight.

Ideas for including your kids:

  • Collecting aluminum cans to turn in is a great way for children to make some spending money!

  • You can talk to your children about how recycling can help save money for the family vacation you have planned or their upcoming birthday party.

two teenage girls picking up litter

2. Reduces Harmful Chemicals and Greenhouse Gases

The climate crisis is caused, in part, by the greenhouses gases released from factories and waste. Recycling can help reduce the materials, chemicals and gases released during the production of items by allowing companies to source back their own products to break them down for future use. By creating a positive feedback loop, companies reduce their need to source future supply chains which would negatively impact the environment more so than recycling.

  • If children have learned about climate change in school, be sure to explain to them how recycling is one of the ways people try to combat this change.

  • Look up pictures of metal mining fields, like aluminum mining, to explore the ways it damages the environment.

3. Reduces Pollution

Another benefit of recycling is that it will decrease pollution. Pollution not only looks bad, but it can have negative effects on our health as well. Some countries around the world are so polluted that the inhabitants have to wear masks to prevent themselves from breathing in the toxic air. Pollution is also a serious problem in our water. Polluted water harms us as humans and our marine life and ecosystems. The simple act of recycling can help prevent this issue by minimizing the amount of litter in the environment.

Ideas for including your kids:

  • Consider taking your children on a walk around the neighborhood to pick up the pieces of trash scattered around.

  • Discuss with them how properly disposing of trash and recycling helps keep places like parks and oceans clean for them to play in.

  • Watch age-appropriate documentaries about ocean plastic, litter, and recycling systems.

two teenage boys picking up plastic bottles

4. Reduces the Need for Raw Materials

As we discussed previously, recycling means that companies can reuse rather than gather entirely new items for their products. What most people don't know is that most of the raw materials used for recyclable products come from rainforests. Rainforests are being torn apart and ransacked in order to create paper products. Recycling creates the opportunity for companies to reuse their paper rather than continuing to cut down forests.

Ideas for including your kids:

  • As your children begin to learn about ecosystems and the animals that live in the rainforests in school, introduce the idea of recycling and how harvesting virgin wood from these places leaves the animals without homes.

5. Preserves Landfill Space

Another big reason why recycling is so important is because it preserves landfill space. As landfills begin to pile up with trash, we are forced to create new ones in order to have enough space for all of our trash. If more people recycled, our landfills would be “less crowded” so to speak, allowing for more room for storage of truly “trash” items and efficient processing of the recyclables.

Ideas for including your children:

  • Look up on Google Maps where your local trash is taken and calculate how far it has to travel.

  • Children may be interested in arranging a tour of the local landfill or recycling facility to see up close what massive amounts of waste look like!

  • Suggest a classroom field trip to a recycling facility or landfill.

Show Them How

Once again, teaching your kids these things early on is the best way to get them in the act of recycling. While you can't physically make them do it, you can teach them why they should be invested in their planet and the many ways they can help it stay healthy. Hopefully with the help of the upcoming generations, we can continue the recycling movement.

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