Want to teach your kids the importance of recycling? Get them involved in the process! Once your kids discover how much of our everyday trash can be recycled, and how easy it is to keep those items out of the landfill, you can bet they’ll be eager to help. Start by explaining the concept of recycling and then work together to create a home recycling center. Remember, recycling can be fun. In fact, we often look to the recycling bin for craft supplies. Even if you already sort your cans, bottles, and paper, and we hope you do, you can update your system and make it more kid-friendly with our tips.


Step 1: Explain Recycling to Your Kids

Help kids understand the concept of recycling through play. PlanToys Eco Recycling Game is a good bet for the preschool set. The natural rubberwood game tokens and recycling bins help children learn about recycling different items – the first person who gets all of their tokens recycled wins. Another good way to helps kids understand how recycling works is through books. We like Michael Recycle, which tells the tale of a green-caped crusader who teaches people about recycling and cleans up the town. You can also explain to your kids that their small efforts can save trees, energy and other resources, and show them some products you have around the house that are made from recycled items including clothing, notebooks, and toys.

Step 2: Know Your City’s Recycling Rules

If your garbage collection service offers curbside recycling, call them to determine what can be recycled. It’s not always as simple as glass, metal, plastic and paper. Even if glass is accepted, some colors may not be accepted in your area, or while plastic milk jugs may be okay, tetra packs may not be allowed in the recycling bin. You’ll also want to find out which numbered types of plastic can be recycled. Be sure to do all of your research before you rule out recycling a certain item. Just because something isn’t collected curbside, doesn’t mean it must go in the trash. For example, there may be a drop-off location in your town for batteries. Earth911’s Recycling Database is a good resource for finding local recycling and drop-off locations for all kinds of items. A call to your local city council can also provide information on local drop-off spots if curbside recycling isn’t an option.

Once you get the scoop, share your findings with your kids, and talk about why some items have to be recycled in different places. You may even want to look into visiting a local recycling plant so kids can see the magic first-hand.

Step 3: Make a List of Recyclables

Working together with your kids, create a list of all the items that can and can’t be recycled. For younger children, type up the list on the computer and print it out, and then let them decorate with crayons and drawings. For older children, have them write the list and add drawings on their own. You’ll want to post this list next to your recycling station, and you may even want a second copy to leave in the kitchen if your recycling center is elsewhere.

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Step 4: Pick a Spot for Your Recycling Center

Decide where you want to keep your recycling center. In the garage? Under the kitchen sink? In the pantry? In the laundry room? Wherever you choose, make sure it’s accessible to all members of your family — don’t put it up too high, or in a hard to access area if you want to encourage your kids to deposit their items themselves. You’ll also need to make sure there is enough room for separate bins for each type of item.

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Step 5: Set Up the Bins

Tailor your center to your local recycling rules. If your community has a commingling program, you’ll be able to mix your cardboard, glass, metals and plastics all in one bin; if not, you’ll need to separate into two or three bins.

Your recycling center could be as simple as using 3 old cardboard boxes – one for glass, one for plastic, and one for paper. However, if you’re looking for a more sturdy solution that will stand up to spills and smells, purchase plastic bins from your local hardware store or buy a special dual-bucket trash can made for recycling like the simplehuman Stainless Steel 2-Bin Recycler. If you have younger children helping to recycle, you may want to choose color-coded bins. Don’t feel tied to buying bins that are all the same size. If you read and recycle lots of newspapers and magazines, buy a bigger bin for paper. Drink a lot of juice and milk? Your plastic bin could be bigger. Before you toss items inside, line them with plastic bags, taking care to use the correct color or type of bag if specified by your recycling service.

Also, don’t forget smaller containers to save more unusual items that you might have to take to drop-off locations once in awhile. You may want to re-use an old coffee can to collect batteries, or designate one large plastic bag to save your smaller plastic bags that you bring home when you forget your reusable grocery bags.

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Step 6: Create and Attach Labels

Ask your kids to make signs for each one of the bins, using a different color marker to write out each word – glass, plastic, and so on. If your kids can’t read yet, take photos of the items that you’ll be recycling and attach them to the corresponding bins.

Step 7: Recycle!

Decide who will tackle different recycling jobs. Will each family member take their own items to the recycling center as they use them up? Will you collect a smaller bag inside and then have one child sort them into the appropriate bin each week? Whatever you decide to do, be sure to drop off or take your recyclables to the curb at least every two weeks to avoid stinky odors or bug issues.

If you drop off your recyclables, be sure to take your kids with you and make it a family event. That way your kids will be able to see the amount of newspapers, glass, and plastic that gets recycled and begin to understand how much waste we produce and get a visual of how our recycling efforts can reduce what goes into the landfill.