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Going Green: Recycling with the Kids

10 Oct 2014 – 11:46 AM EDT

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Recycling is one of the most tangible ways to teach your kids about going green. Whether your home is the greenest on the block or you’re just learning about the process, it’s important to get the whole family involved with your waste collection and separation.

According to the US EPA, in 2012, Americans recycled about 35% of the 251 million tons of trash they created. Each person generated about 4.5 pounds of waste per day. Paper and cardboard were discarded the most at 27% of total waste with food scraps in second at 14%. Does that seem high to you? Could you recycle more or reduce your waste? Recycling not only keeps waste from being entombed in landfills but also preserves resources to make new products and generates jobs.

Understand Recycling Yourself

Arm yourself with knowledge to tell your children when they ask questions. Review the US EPA’s site on municipal solid waste. Contact your local solid waste district and understand exactly how you should turn in your recycling for processing – bags, bin, or at a drop off location. Learn about what happens after your recycling leaves the curb or drop off. Most of it will be transferred to a local materials recovery facility for sorting and bailing and then sold to reclaiming facilities where it is processed for manufacturing. See if your family can get a tour of one of these facilities.

Make It Easy

It may take some reorganizing under the kitchen sink or in the pantry to find a proper place for your recycling but it will maximize recycling success for your family. Create a chart or graphic of items that go in each bin so there is no question where waste should end up.

Educate the Kids

Chat with the kids over a meal or in the car about how you want to increase recycling at your house. Make sure they know your process and where your bins or recycling bags are. Share with them your new found recycling knowledge. Then assign each kid a job involving your waste like emptying bathroom garbage cans weekly, checking the main trash bin each day to make sure no recyclables are mixed in or carrying the blue bags to the curb.

There are many fun online games to help kids think about what should be recycled, composted or end up in the landfill. Here are a few: NASA’s Climate Kids’ Recycle This, National Geographic’s Recycle Round Up and US EPA’s Recycle City.

Take it Further

Challenge your family to keep going green with your garbage. Compost your food scraps and garden waste to reduce your landfill contribution even more. Consider source reduction, or waste prevention, by buying products that are easier to recycle in the first place or are not made to be thrown away like paper towels. Then, close the loop by purchasing recycled content items like paper, fleece or toilet paper – who needs to cut down trees just to flush them down the toilet, anyway?