How to answer your kids’ recycling questions and take sustainable actions

Getting children excited about recycling, and teaching them how to recycle effectively, will build habits that stay with them for life while conserving the planet’s precious resources. It’s certainly not the only action they’ll need to take to protect the environment from this growing problem – in an ideal world we wouldn’t rely on single-use items that require recycling. But it’s a good starting point for dealing with the waste crisis we’re facing.

Parent and child holding a tub of recycling beside the text 'How to answer kids' recycling questions'

Here are seven steps you can take to help your tiny humans become effective recyclers.

  1. Acknowledge their frustrations

Give your kids space to express their fears about the waste crisis, acknowledge the reality of their concerns, and discuss what’s already being done to tackle these issues. Younger generations face an incredible burden in trying to roll-back the harm humanity has inflicted on the planet, so it’s important to arm them with stark facts as well as hope for the future.

  1. Talk about the impact of waste and recycling

Before discussing the practicalities of recycling, talk with your kids about why it’s necessary in the first place. Explain that humans simply create too much rubbish for the Earth to handle – in Australia and New Zealand, each person produces more than 700kg of rubbish annually, which equates to around 30 chunky wombats. 

Most of this waste is not home compostable, so it piles up in landfills or pollutes our land, oceans and air as we continue to pull more resources out of the Earth. Emphasising individual impact will help kids understand how their own actions fit into the broader scheme of things, and encourage them to take positive steps to conserve resources. 

  1. Reduce and reuse

As you begin to teach your child about recycling, start with the importance of reducing and reusing. There is no quick fix for the waste crisis, but the best way to reduce waste is to limit what we buy and reuse everything we can. Then, recycling comes into play.

‘Reducing’ doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to kids, but when you explain that buying less new stuff helps the environment – and you set an example – they’ll be more likely to engage. Talking about reuse can be more fun, as you can highlight the possibilities. A baby wipe container can become a box your child can decorate for their art supplies. Egg cartons can be used to sprout seedlings. Plastic bottles can become bird feeders – and on and on.

Composting is recycling, too. Food scraps don’t have to go to the landfill (where they take longer to decompose and release harmful methane). If you don’t have room to start your own backyard compost pile or worm farm, you can collect kitchen scraps in an aerated countertop bin, then use apps like ShareWaste to connect with neighbours or community gardens looking to add to their own compost. Or, see if your local council offers collection services for food and garden organics and sign up.

  1. Make recycling fun

There are many ways to add energy to the conversation about recycling through kid-friendly games and activities. Here are a few ideas:

  • Play a trivia game with questions on how long it takes for certain items to decompose
  • If you’re a pocket money family, incorporate recycling chores into your system. It could be as simple as awarding them 10 cents for each item they pop in your kerbside bins, or involve a visit to container recycling schemes, like Return and Earn in NSW, which reward you with cash or charitable donations for recycling.
  • Read about recycling! Young word lovers can learn about the benefits of recycling and how to put rubbish to good use in the interactive flip book Don’t Throw That Away! and the relatable school excursion Why Should I Recycle?. Accomplished young readers and parents alike should dig into The Future We Choose to explore the different scenarios that will potentially impact humanity depending on the global climate action we take now.
  1. Decorate bins for recycling 

Encourage your kids to add their own flair to your recycling bins and TerraCycle collection station so they’re more invested in using them. Organise labelling to avoid contamination – separating glass, plastic and cardboard for kerbside collections – and create dedicated TerraCycle collection boxes for each of the free recycling programs you’re signed up to. Once they look spiffy, place them somewhere your child can easily access and get busy recycling.

  1. Host a rubbish cleanup with friends

Everything’s better with a friend! Coordinate a get-together with your child’s friends at a local park or beach and see who can pick up the most rubbish before playtime.

Make sure to provide gloves for everyone and to supervise closely. Tell kids what they can safely pick up, and that they should ask you before picking up anything else. Here’s a handy guide for organising a litter collection day.

Sort kerbside recyclable items as you go, add hard-to-recycle rubbish to relevant TerraCycle collections, and consider purchasing a Zero Waste Box to recycle remaining items.

  1. Bring recycling to school

Teach your child that recycling isn’t just important at home, but everywhere. Here are some ways you can do this: 

  • Talk to teachers about a school project where your child can share everything they’ve learned about recycling at home. 
  • Reach out to your local kerbside recycling centre to see if a representative could speak to the classroom or school assembly about recycling.
  • Encourage your kiddos to sort items into the right bins at school, and to bring home hard-to-recycle rubbish that you can send to TerraCycle. Seeing friends responsibly managing rubbish can start essential conversations.

Want to go even further? Bring TerraCycle to your child’s school. Coordinate with school administrators to help set up a school recycling station and begin collecting hard-to-recycle rubbish to send in through our recycling programs. It’s completely free, and can help you fundraise for your school through the TerraCycle reward points system. 

We’re so excited that you’re instilling the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling in your child. The effort you put in will have positive ripple effects for the planet for generations to come. Way to go! 

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