We can no longer afford to experiment with how much waste the planet can handle. We’re facing an environmental catastrophe so learning how to care for our environment is an essential life skill. One that can start from a very young age!
The EU-set target for the UK is to recycle at least 50% of our household waste by 2020. The latest figures, from 2016, show that we managed a 45.2% recycling rate, up from 44.6% in 2015. So we’re almost there.
But with the UK producing 22.8 million tonnes of rubbish in 2016, that’s still a heck of a lot going to landfill.
So how can we stop the UK, and the wider planet, becoming one big, overflowing dustbin? Engage our kids! Teaching our youngsters how to recycle can be fun and rewarding, in every sense.
Fortunately, the three ‘R’s of waste management – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – are relatively simple to introduce. Here’s how.
Why Should We Teach Children About Recycling?
Encouraging children to recycle is a way of teaching them about sustainability. Learning the importance of being sustainable shows them that the environment is important.
It also helps create responsible adults, with a better chance of having a decent planet to live on.
Before You Recycle, Reduce and Reuse
Recycling our waste reduces our environmental impact. It prevents rubbish otherwise languishing in landfill or being incinerated. But even recycling uses valuable energy and resources. Try to get into the habit of only sending something to the recycling bin when it’s at the end of its usable life. It’s best to reduce or reuse first, before you recycle.
Use what you have for as long as possible and reduce the amount of stuff that you buy. Don’t fall for Buy One Get One Free ‘bargains’ if you know you’re not going to use the second item. Consider each thing you buy and ask yourself if you really need it.
Reusing and repurposing items can really open kids eyes. When they grow out of their clothes, if they’re no good for charity or a hand-me-down, they can still be reused. Cut them into squares for use as household cleaning cloths or bathtime flannels. They can talk about their favourite memories of wearing their old clothes as they wash!
How to Teach Children About Recycling
It might seem like just another thing to fit into busy family lives, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Recycling can be an exciting challenge.
In the kitchen, eliminating food waste is one of the most important skills to teach. “Eyes bigger than your belly” might be an old saying, but it now has even more meaning. Taking too much food and wasting it only contributes to the mountains of food waste created each year.
Even scraps can be put in the council food waste bin or composted at home. Kids love composting and ‘feeding the worms’. If you compost at home, you’ll have homegrown compost for your homegrown veggies!
The bathroom is often forgotten when it comes to being green. But all those plastic bottles and tubs can be added to the recycling after a quick rinse. Reminding kids to turn the tap off whilst brushing their teeth is another way to make them think ecologically. Using bars of soap or shampoo is also better than buying plastic pump bottles of liquid soap.
It’s All Fun, Fun, Fun!
Playing zero waste games can help make recycling a bit more hands on. Use egg cartons to grow cress and herbs. Car boot sales and charity shops are great ways of disposing of pre-loved toys and clothes. Explain to your kids that it’s not rubbish – it’s stuff on a journey.
Kids respond well to visual aids too. Zero waste YouTube clips are a great starting point for discussions about landfill and negative environmental impacts. Explain that certain materials don’t decompose and some will exist for hundreds if not thousands of years.
Lead by example and show kids how to cut down on packaging and unnecessary plastics. For example, bananas don’t need a plastic bag because they come in their own packaging. As you go around the shops, ask them to see how many things they can find that are covered in unnecessary plastic. Buy refills for cleaning products. Choose loose products rather than pre-packaged, and buy in bulk if you’re able to.
Schools can help teach good recycling habits too. If your local school doesn’t recycle, become (or nominate someone else!) an eco-warrior that looks after recycling. You could collect waste paper for wet playtime scribbles for example. Ask the kids where the waste from their packed lunches goes – recycling, composting or landfill bins. Or hold competitions to see which class can collect the most amount of recycling.
It All Helps – Don’t Think You Can’t Make a Difference
Busy parents don’t always have time to teach recycling and environmental responsibility. But making it part of everyday life could become second nature quicker than you think.
The majority of people live ‘in the now’ but what about our great-grandchildren? Will they have a planet that produces enough oxygen? Is there likely to be enough plastic free soil to live on and grow food in? Will their seas be clogged with plastic and free from fish? Their beaches an ocean of junk? Imagine your great-grandchildren never setting foot on the beach because it’s too dangerous. That’s a sad thought.
The New Normal
We can change our behaviour and protect the environment. It’s far from impossible. The misuse of carrier bags has shown us the way. Now that we have 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 or 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.