Recycling should be a family affair but often recycling can seem very complicated to little kids. Take it from me; at age five Cedar “recycled” some of our silicone homemade popsicle molds claiming, “They looked recyclable!“ Reluctant adults in your home may actually not get recycling or they may be using their lack of know-how to get out of recycling.
Either way the following tips can make recycling easier for the entire household and if everyone knows how to recycle there’s no excuses.
Know the laws: You can’t encourage the family to recycle properly unless you know your local laws and policies about it. Locate your state’s government website and then type “recycling” into the search box once at the site or call your local garbage company.
Have a family recycling meeting: Which recyclables go in which bin, which stuff is actually recyclable vs. trash and which items can be composted, reused or donated before you recycle are key topics to cover with everyone. WHY we recycle is also an excellent topic. For little kids there’s no need to drag a meeting like this on for hours – just cover the basics.
Keep talking: In my experience it takes a while to introduce new green issues to the family. A meeting is good start, but with kids especially you have to keep talking. Work in little conversations about recycling. Kids may not get all of it in one sitting but eventually small conversations start to add up in their thirsty little brains. One excellent place to discuss recycling is at the grocery store. For example, when buying a product ask your child, “Do you think we’ll be able to recycle this? Or will it have to go to the dump?”
Hang a poster: You and the kids can make a recycling poster to hang up that includes visuals of typical items your home uses and can recycle – i.e. cans, glass jars, paper and so on. Search old magazines for images to use on your poster, take some photos of actual items or draw pictures freehand.
Have a dedicated home recycling area and then label it: Every home needs a dedicated home recycling center (but that’s a much longer post). For now keep in mind that a recycling center should be easy for kids to reach and not move around (like from the garage to the kitchen and back again). After setting up your bins label each bin with text for older kids and adults and little pictures for younger kids. Recycle Now is meant for schools but they have an excellent collection of recycling sticker labels you can print that would also work great for home bins. If you can’t find some waterproof recycling labels check out Planetpals for some free recycling clip art; print it; then affix pictures to your bins with clear packing tape.
Put your kids in charge: When you give a child responsibility in the form of “You’re in charge of making everyone do this” kids tend to take on a task with gusto. My son, for example, at six and seven years was in charge of lights (keep them off), reusable bags (don’t forget to take them) and checking the thermostats. He did other green stuff too – but these were his major, “In charge” tasks and he kept up with them perfectly. Now he’s a little crazed actually about lights being off actually – but I guess I’d rather have him crazed then not.
Make it meaningful – plan a trip to your local recycling center AND drive by the trash dump as well so your kids can see their actions in well, action. Visit a neat recycling website for kids or read a cool kid-friendly book about recycling; Recycle!: A Handbook for Kids is a good choice for younger kids, although it’s a little older so you’ll have to update your child on newer recycling issues.
How are you involving your kids in the recycling process?