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Teaching Your Kids to Recycle

How To Help Save the Earth With Fun, Educational Activities

Recycling is important and everyone benefits from taking care of our planet and saving money and resources. Those are great reasons to participate in a recycling program in your home and in your community. Learning about recycling different materials and how to play a part in preserving and protecting the earth and atmosphere can be an easy, fun and educational project for the whole family.

Why Recycle?

Why is recycling important? Think about how much garbage your family creates each week. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that in the United States, each person generates 4.5 pounds of solid waste each day! When you think of how much garbage all the world's families and businesses create, it's easy to understand that there is just too much waste for our landfills to handle.

Creating more landfills is not a good solution to the problem, however, because all that garbage creates pollution and unsafe conditions for our soil, water and air. The good news is that every family can help by creating their own recycling program to help conserve energy and resources – and to keep the planet from becoming covered with garbage.

The Three R's

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) says an easy way to start a recycling program with your kids is by practicing these three R's: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Reduce waste by throwing away fewer items and by only purchasing items you really need, that last a long time and that come with less packaging material.

Reuse by finding ways to use items again, repairing broken items or creating new ways to use items. For example, Joan and Tom Prichard, parents of two children ages 10 and 8, of Grayson, Ga., say they reuse plastic milk jugs to create a root watering system for their tomato plants. They poke small holes in the bottoms of the jugs, bury them near the vines and fill them with water. Their children help by monitoring the plants and the water levels in the jugs.

Recycle by collecting and separating recyclable items to be picked up or take your recyclables to a recycling center where they are processed to create the same, different or new products.

Get Educated

Some families aren't sure which items they can recycle or how to do it. The easiest way to recycle at home is to use recycling bins to sort newspapers, glass bottles and jars, tin and aluminum containers, plastic bottles and bags, and mixed waste paper (cardboard, phone books, magazines, junk mail, office paper and brown bags).

Patricia Murdoch of Kitimat, British Columbia, Canada, and her 6-year-old son, Jacob, recycle all their cans, bottles and juice containers by returning them to their local bottle depot. "Jacob loves to recycle because he gets the money and can spend it as he likes," says Murdoch.

According to Worldwise Inc., an environmental consumer products company, motor oil and oil filters can be recycled through automobile repair or oil changing businesses that participate in a recycling program. They caution, however, to never pour oil or antifreeze into a storm drain or sewer.

Look for the recyclable logo on batteries from remote control toys, cordless power tools, cellular and cordless phones, laptop computers, camcorders and digital cameras. To recycle batteries, call (800) 8-BATTERY (228-8379) to find drop-off locations. Online, you can find lists of companies and recycling centers that recycle and reuse cell phones, batteries, computers, electronics, computer disks and aluminum cans at www.earth911.org.

Make Recycling Fun

Discover fun and educational ways for your family to recycle by consulting your library, school or the Internet. Even using your library is a form of recycling, because the books, magazines and tapes are used over and over!

Be crafty by making birdfeeders from household containers. Use the water from cooked vegetables to water your houseplants. Let kids save the crusts cut from their sandwiches to feed the ducks at the park. Plastic grocery bags make great trash bags, or you can recycle them at your local grocery store. Encourage kids to start or join a printer ink cartridge recycling program at their school.

You also can participate in local and national recycling events like America Recycles Day (ARD), which is observed every year on Nov. 15. "It's important for families to get involved," says Steve Kullen, ARD national program manager. "Parents can have a huge impact in getting the companies they work for to recycle." Mark your calendars and visit the America Recycles Day Web site at www.americarecyclesday.org for more information.

Get Creative

Challenge kids to come up with new recycling ideas. My 9-year-old daughter, Lauren, a prolific artist, says, "I use both sides of paper to save money and trees." In fact, Weyerhaeuser Recycling says the amount of paper they collect in a year would fill 84,000 railcars – enough to create a train nearly 800 miles long.

Kids also love the yucky-ness of worm farming, and Mary Appelhof, vermicomposting expert (www.wormwoman.com), offers several books that teach kids all about this fun biological recycling activity that turns food waste into potting soil with the help of worms!

Another idea is to order replacement pieces for missing parts from toys, games, appliances and household items by calling the manufacturers' toll-free number or visiting their Web sites instead of purchasing entirely new items. Or help your kids organize a yard sale and let them keep the profits from selling their old toys.

How about recycling candy? "As we go from holiday to holiday, it's frugal and sensible to use the excess and 'day after' bargains of one holiday for the next," says Pat Veretto, the guide to frugal living at About.com. "For instance … Christmas candy kisses, wrapped in gold and silver and red foil, can be used on Valentine's Day. Save the green ones for St. Patrick's Day! Green, gold and silver are still appropriate for Easter or nearly any other holiday, so stock up on those or save back some." Now that sounds like fun and yummy recycling!

What Can't We Recycle?

It's important that you also teach your kids what can't be recycled and how to dispose of it properly. Ohio State University's "Community Development Fact Sheet" offers the following tips for the current "best" means of disposing of household hazardous waste:

  • Oil-based paints, thinners, gasoline, pool chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, chemicals and many cleaning products are non-recyclable and should not be disposed of with normal solid waste. Read product labels for disposal instructions or keep materials properly stored and sealed, and reuse until the product is gone. Give excess product to a friend or neighbor to use, or solidify liquid wastes before disposal.
  • To solidify liquid waste, use an absorbent material like sawdust, kitty litter, paper towels or rags to soak up the liquid.
  • Do not solidify more than one chemical at a time.
  • Open a non-aerosol container with wire cutters or scissors and air-dry. Wear gloves and swab inside with paper towels before disposal.
  • Turn aerosol cans upside down and spray to release remaining product into paper towels or other absorbent material.
  • Dry out latex paint by exposing it to air. When dried, you can dispose of the paint and container with household waste.
  • Dispose of rags or paper towels after air-drying outside.
  • Wear gloves to place absorbent materials in plastic bags and dispose with household waste.
  • Wrap empty containers with layers of newspaper to prevent contamination with other materials or the environment.

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