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Teaching Kids About Recycling

2008 December 11

About the author: Viccy Salazar joined EPA in 1995. She works in our Seattle office on waste reduction, resource conservation and stewardship issues.

Recycling is hard. Sometimes I don’t even know what to recycle so when it comes time to talk kids about recycling, where do I start?? Well, I had to teach recycling to a bunch of preschoolers on America Recycles Day, here is what I learned.

Make the rules simple –

  • Cans, paper, boxes, jars, and bottles go in the recycle bin.
  • If it is dirty, clean it or throw it away
  • No Lids, they go in the trash.
  • No food in the recycle bin – even if it is attached to something else.
  • If it is broken – in the trash
  • If it can be used again, use it again or donate it to someone who can.

Practice – When we actually practiced, the kids couldn’t remember what went where until they had tried it a few times.

Expect mistakes – use them as a teaching opportunity.

Relate it to protecting the earth and the animals. The kids really wanted to help out.

Try it out with your kids. It was fun, informative and reminded me what to recycle. How did it work?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. permalink
    December 11, 2008

    nice post teaching children about recycling is a great idea

  2. Mary G permalink
    December 11, 2008

    No lids? But some yogurt containers (which are #5) have lids that are #1. You can recycle them.

  3. Shlomo Horowitz permalink
    December 11, 2008

    Oy, what a fantastic post! Why was this not published sooner? The kids should know about the recycling; it’s un-American to hide something this beneficial from them. At the Horowitz household, which I realize may be a bit different from your houses, not only does everything get put in its proper receptacle, but we reuse items that others would willingly discard.

    Oh, ho, you say you want examples? You sound like my daughter, Shvelta, who asks me, “Dad, how can one day’s supply of oil last for eight? Give me an example of when this has happened since.” Without hesitation, I say, “Shvelta, when was the last time we bought olive oil?” She’ll think for a minute and say, “2002?”

    That’s right! We have not purchased olive oil since the year 5763 (or 2002 to those dabbling in the Gregorian arts). “But Shlomo, how does this work?”

    Ah! My friends, it is the beauty of the recycling. See, every time the bottle is half-empty (this is how I see it, my brother, Morty, likes to see things half-full, but he’s a mensch) I refill it with water. The water and the oil separate until mixed and the dishes my wife cooks are just as flavorful as she is.

    How else do we Horowitzes recycle? We save the aluminum foil from old pieces of chocolate and use them, once we’ve gotten enough, to wrap sandwiches in. And a bonus! The lunch food smells like Heaven. Yahweh himself would be proud.

    I have other tips, but I don’t want to share them unsolicited. But please, feel free to ask me. Ye shall receive!


  4. Composty McComposterson permalink
    December 11, 2008


  5. Brenda-EPA permalink
    December 12, 2008

    I do an exercise with 1st and 2nd graders where I bring a bag full of items. After a small presentation on recycling, each kid takes one out and tells me if it can be reused, reduced or recycled. They love the game. I always bring door prizes for those who answer correctly!

  6. Mary G permalink
    December 14, 2008

    Do you have any idea how science works? Adding water to olive oil does not make more olive oil, it just makes a runny mixture of olive-flavored water.

    As far as chocolate goes… how much chocolate do you and your wife eat? I mean, seriously, even if you bought a 10 pound bar from Herseyland every other week, you’d only have enough foil to wrap one pastrami on rye. Do your kids help you consume the chocolate? You probably spend more on chocolate than you would if you went to BJs and bought 10,000 feet of aluminum.

    My parents all but forced me to constantly watch that episode of Rocko’s Modern Life where O-Town breaks out into a song and dance about caring for Earth. R-E-C-Y-C-L-E, recycle! C-O-N-S-E-R-V-E conserve! Don’t you P-O-L-L-U-T-E pollute the rivers, sky, or seas, or else you’re going to get what you deserve. I may not have known it then, but they set me on the eco-friendly path that continues to this day.

  7. Zachariah permalink
    December 15, 2008

    This was a great blog post. Even simple issues like recycling deserve our attention. The obstacles that remain in the way of recycling continue to amaze me. At home, in the workplace, or out on the town, if we all speak up when we can’t find recycling containers we’ll make real progress in defeating this problem.

  8. Christy permalink
    January 8, 2009

    Great Blog Post!
    I wanted to share a site that helped my son’s school take on a Waste-Free Lunch Challenge. Kids Konserve offers its reusable lunch products directly to individuals, families and also as a fundraising opportunity in schools along with helping come up with some green initiatives. My son loved seeing the BEFORE and AFTER photos of the lunch trash. Amazing the difference. It put quite an impression on my son and is now very interested in being better on the environment. Have your school take a Kids Konserve Challenge. Their site:

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