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Advice Rethinking the Three ‘R’s: How to Teach Your Children About Recycling

We can’t afford to run the experiment of seeing how much more waste the world can take before there’s an environmental catastrophe. This means that learning how to care for our planet is an essential life skill. Do you know how to teach your children about recycling? If not, the three ‘R’s are one of the simplest ways to do so – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Recycling in the UK Is on the Slide

The EU set us a target in the UK to recycle at least 50% of household waste by 2020. However our recycling levels have dropped in recent years and it doesn’t look like we’ll make it. We still generate around 407 kg of household waste per person every year. That’s just over 64 stone of rubbish for each of us if you’re old school like me. What we don’t recycle is either buried or burnt, both of which contribute to environmental problems.

Our world is gradually becoming one huge, overflowing dustbin. So what can we do?

Before You Recycle, Reduce and Reuse

Recycling our waste cuts down on the environmental impact for sure, but turning our recycling into new products uses energy and resources too. It’s best not to create waste to begin with. Use what you have for as long as possible and recycle it only at the end of its usable life.

Make Polluters Pay

Some experts think a ‘polluter pays’ strategy is the way forward. This is a proposed tax on manufacturers who use materials that can’t be recycled. The idea is that the money is used to support local authorities who are responsible for recycling. My local authority has axed services, due to an ‘austerity-driven’ lack of funding for years now. They don’t have the cash for recycling awareness projects, so perhaps this is a way forward.

Even so, we can’t just blame the council and carry on regardless. We still aren’t recycling all the materials that they do have facilities for – and that’s where we ought to step up our game.

Why Should We Teach Children About Recycling?

It’s a simple case of sustainability. There are no infinite resources in the world except perhaps solar and wind power. When you recycle rubbish, old products are made into new ones. It still takes energy but without using so many natural resources.

Teaching children how to recycle at a young age shows them that the environment is important. It will help create responsible adults that have more likelihood of retaining a planet to live on.

How to Teach Children About Recycling

Teaching your kids to recycle is yet something else that we have to try and fit in, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. If you have leftovers turn them into a Spanish omelette or freeze them rather than scraping it all into the bin. If it’s inedible, such as peelings, then put them in the composter. Kids love composting and it’s even better when there are worms to feed. Plus you‘ll have the best compost for growing your own fruit and veggies next year. About 10 million tonnes of food and drink were wasted in the food chain in 2013 – that’s a lot of compost we missed out on.

I’m a big fan of visual aids for kids. YouTube clips of waste tips are a great starting point for discussions about landfill and the negative environmental impacts. Explain that certain materials don’t rot down like your compost and some of that rubbish will be there for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Make recycling fun by playing zero-waste games such as using the plastic moulding from toy packaging with play dough, jelly or kinetic sand, or use a Costa disposable coffee cup to grow cress and basil. Go to car boot sales and charity shops to dispose of old toys and clothes. Explain to your kids that it’s not rubbish – it’s stuff on a journey.

Lead by example and show kids how to cut down on packaging and unnecessary plastics. Bananas don’t need a plastic bag because they come in their own packaging! Buy refills for hand soap or solid shampoos, choose loose products rather than pre-packaged, and buy in bulk if you’re able to.

Schools can help teach good recycling habits too. We have an eco-warrior group that looks after recycling in each classroom, retaining left-over paper for wet playtime scribbles for example. The kids have to choose composting or landfill bins after they’ve eaten lunch, and we held an interclass competition to see who could save the most milk bottle tops.

It All Helps – Don’t Think You Can’t Make a Difference

Busy parents don’t always have time to teach life skills such as healthy eating, recycling and environmental responsibility but it’s dangerous to see how far we can push our planet with never-ending take and waste.

The majority of people live ‘in the now’ but what about our great-grandchildren? Will they have a planet that produces enough oxygen? Will there be enough plastic and metal-free soil to live on and grow food in? Will their seas be clogged and the beaches an ocean of junk? Imagine your great-grandchildren never setting foot on the beach because it’s choked up with rubbish and too dangerous.

The New Normal

I believe we can change our behaviour and protect the environment – and it’s far from impossible. The misuse of carrier bags has shown us the way. Now that people are expected to pay for them, their use has dropped by around 85%. Reusable bags are the new norm and it didn’t take long at all.

Every time we reduce, reuse and recycle, our children watch and learn to live sustainably. Our planet needs some swift TLC and our children are willing to give it. We just need to show them how.

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