Teaching Children About Recycling


Easy items to recycle include metal cans, most plastics such as yogurt cups, cardboard, aluminum cans, and glass.

My daughter has grown up watching her mother recycle, so it’s no big deal to her.  However, she is still learning about recyclable materials and she is also still working on remembering to recycle items.  Because she doesn’t have as much opportunity to learn about recycling outside of our home, I am her primary teacher when it comes to this subject.  She needs to be reminded sometimes to recycle, although other times she remembers on her own.

My goals are to teach her:

  1. Why it’s important to recycle
  2. What can be recycled
  3. What can’t be recycled
  4. Learning personal responsibility through recycling

I think all children, regardless of age, should at the very least be exposed to the concept of recycling and why it is so important.  If you feel you can’t find the right words, an internet search for “child-friendly recycling diagrams” is a good search.

Recycling is part of the bigger REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE phrase that is so well known but often overlooked.  These actions are listed in their order of importance.  First, reduce the amount of consumption.  Second, reuse items if possible.  Finally, recycle if the first two do not apply.

I also love that I can use recycling to not only teach my daughter about taking care of the earth, but about personal ownership and responsibility.  If she ate something from a plastic container, she is responsible for placing it in the recycling bag because she used it. Sometimes she asks whether an item can be recycled or not, and we talk about this as well.  In time, she will know enough about recycling to determine what items get recycled, which are reused, and which are thrown away.

We also talk about litter on the roadways, to which my daughter will inevitably reply, “That’s not good for the earth.  That person should have recycled.”  Which, needless to say, warms my heart!

Teaching these principles to children helps to ingrain an eco-friendly mindset, which will hopefully result in an eco-friendly, responsible, insightful adult.

Have you ever taught children about recycling?  What method of teaching worked for you?


Plastic Shopping Bags – “No, thanks”

Here’s a story for you:

A man in a store goes to the checkout counter to purchase one small item.  The store associate proceeds to put the item into a plastic bag, at which point the man says, “Oh, I don’t need a bag, thank you.”  The associate then takes the unused bag and thoughtlessly throws it in the trash.  That’s right – an item that had to be processed from crude oil, shipped by truck to the store, and was never even used – right into the trash, without a thought.

Another story:

A woman in a store buys a couple of items and also declines a plastic bag.  “No big deal,” she says happily, “I don’t need a bag.” The associate doesn’t seem to want to believe it is possible for a customer to decline this free, lovely plastic bag, and proceeds to ask not once, not twice, but three times if the customer is sure she doesn’t want the bag.

In my experience, these are not isolated instances and both scenarios have happened to us on many occasions.  When we decline plastic shopping bags, one of two things usually occurs – either the associate throws the unused bag in the trash, or they repeatedly ask if we are completely sure we don’t want a bag.  While the latter is much preferred – one,

how have we come to the point as a society that “things” are so replaceable, we will throw unused items away?

And two, how do we find it so difficult to believe someone wouldn’t want a plastic bag?

I’m trying my best to reduce my consumption here.  Plastic is a by-product of crude oil and often ends up in landfills.  On the rare occasion I don’t have a reusable tote with me and need a bag, I always reuse or recycle the plastic bag, which although not ideal, is better than tossing it carelessly in the trash.  Declining (or recycling) a plastic bag is such a simple step towards a better planet.

Do you own reusable totes?  What is your policy for using plastic shopping bags?