It bugs me when people doesn’t recycle, but parents with children bug me the most. Fair enough, recycling might not save the world, but it can only help, and if you’ve gone to the effort of bringing a new person onto this planet, surely you owe it to them to make sure the planet is as habitable and sustainable as possible, not only for them, but for the generations that follow them?
Of all the work I do, working with children is the most rewarding as they are so open to recycling, without the cynicism of adults. And this is why I believe it should be relatively easy to encourage a child to recycle at home. Schools do their bit, but if the child then goes home and everything is thrown into the refuse bin, this only leads them to believe that being at home is different, and it isn’t important. But it is!
Now I’m not a parent, but I know parenting isn’t always easy. I’m not saying you should 100% recycle everything all the time and never use anything disposable. There are times in life where other priorities take over. Just wanted to add that as a disclaimer. And with that said, here are some tips for rallying your own gang of mini eco-warriors.
A woman once told me that she learned more about recycling from her 4 year old grandchild than she’d ever learned from anyone else. The child knew exactly what went in which bin, and told her off if she got it wrong, because its parents had taught it from a young age. Children are taught to put things into the bin when they’re toddling, and its a great habit to get them in to.
Have two bins in the room (a living room is a good place to start) and let them pick which bin the item should go into. They’ll pick it up very, very quickly. And it goes without saying to lead by example. If they see you doing it, they’ll do it too.
Make it easy
Have two separate bins in each room so that they know the option is there. Pictures can help, if they’re confused. A photo or print-out of a newspaper and a fruit shoot bottle on one bin, will soon help them realise what goes where.
Give them a responsibility
When I talk to schoolchildren about recycling, I usually tell them that they’re now in charge of recycling in their homes, as they’re now experts, so they need to go home and make sure everyone’s doing it correctly. They love this, and its great for slightly older children.
There are different tasks that can be allocated to them – they can be in charge of emptying the food waste into the compost bin; or watching the ‘best before’ dates of the food in the fridge; or checking that that the recycling bins in the house have the correct items, then emptying them into the big bin; or informing visitors of what should go in each bin.
They will lose interest in this over time – because they’re children, that’s what happens. But it gives them a sense of responsibility when they’re young, and it makes recycling a habit for them.
Explain why its important
It’s all very well telling someone to recycle, but its far easier when they understand why they’re doing it. This goes for adults as well. Depending on the age group depends on what you tell them, but at a very basic level, telling them that their old juice bottles will be made into new juice bottles, is simple enough.
As they get older, show them pictures of landfill sites, explain that the world has a finite amount of resources, explain that we create loads of rubbish and we’re running out of places to put it. Explain that we all have a responsibility. It’s possible to do this without scaremongering, but at the same time its important to be honest. See if your local amenity site/recycling centre/landfill site does tours. We arrange tours for school groups through my work, because it’s a great way for them to really see where their rubbish goes and how it is dealt with.
Buy recycled stuff
I always take a box of recycled items to show the children, and they’re always fascinated. A handbag made from tyres! A mouse mat made from a circuit board! A bowl made from telephone wires! Paper made from elephant poo! Buying recycled items helps close the loop as it ensures there’s a market for the materials and it also helps promote understanding of how the cycle works.
Children love learning how things are made, and to find out that something is made from something that was going to be thrown away, is really exciting. It’s easy to do – buy them recycled gifts as part of their Christmas and birthday presents. But you don’t even have to do that. Tell them that their fleece jumper is made from recycled plastic bottles (this blows their minds!!). Tell them that the soles of their gym shoes are made from recycled tyres. Tell them that parts of the plane flying overhead were made from recycled juice cans. Recycling is everywhere, we just don’t always see it.
Do home composting
Home composting is great for children, and its no hassle. Once the compost bin is set up, just add uncooked food waste along with dry items (shredded paper, egg boxes, toilet roll tubes, ripped up junk mail) to get a good balance. Even if you don’t do gardening, the stuff will rot down over time anyway. It doesn’t emit a smell if you do it right, and won’t attract vermin as long as you don’t put cooked food in it.
This is a great chance for children to learn about how methane affects the environment – food rotting in landfill produces methane, whereas food in a compost bin doesn’t, plus they’ll love looking at all the mini beasts that set up home in the bin. If you do have a garden, they’ll enjoy adding the compost they made, and watching how it helps the plants grow.
Teach them about reducing and reusing too
Recycling’s all well and good but reducing and reusing are far more sustainable. Set an example with reusable carrier bags, water bottles, nappies, sandwich tubs instead of tin foil. Don’t use paper plates/cups at birthdays/barbeques, and explain why.
Young children LOVE making stuff out of junk. It’s fun, but its also a great way of demonstrating how things can be reused. Search Pinterest for ideas – you’ll never have a bored child again, believe me. Ultimately, teach them the value of things. Toys not only cost money, but they’re a waste if they end up damaged and thrown in the bin. Teach them to look after things and encourage second hand shopping.
Teach them to look after their own future.
Do you have any tips to add?