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Bins, Beans and Bad Language -­ Using Your Kids To Overcome Your Recycling Guilt

You want your children to be responsible and you want them to care for their environment. You know there’s too much plastic in the oceans; that Landfill is Bad and Recycling is Good.

Teaching The Kids About RecyclingSetting the right example and teaching your children to recycle is obvious and straightforward. Isn’t it? Even if you’ve already overcome your own recycling demons, and you religiously rinse out your tins and milk bottles (and well done you), when you put small children into the mix it isn’tnecessarily so easy. It’s a bit like arts and crafts. You’re sure that other, ‘good’ parents do it; it’s something you want your children to do; and it seems like it should be simple. But somehow it just isn’t.

In principle, recycling in our house is fairly simple. All our recyclables ­ glass, paper, tins, some plastics ­ get put in one bin and the council sorts it. So in my kitchen I have a little compost caddy and one bin with two compartments ­ recycling on the left, non­recycling on the right. Simple...

Until I give you a standard Tuesday evening teatime. There are baked beans on the floor and water all over the table. Someone has knocked over last night’s wine bottle, which was sitting next to the recycling because there wasn’t enough room in the bin. It’s knocked the lid off the compost caddy, so the kitchen is filled with the gentle aroma of rotting cauliflower. Despite the chaos, I’m standing at the sink rinsing the baked beans tin, because I know that if I try to surreptitiously chuck it in the non­recycling bin, the 8­ year ­old will either see me do it, or find it
later. I’m not convinced which option is more trying.

It’s then that a voice from behind asks The Question That They Ask Every Single Day “Can this be recycled?”

I dread the day when I forget that my initial answer must always be uttered under my breath. Despite the teatime fiascos, the simple fact is that, done properly, children will embrace household recycling. And once they embrace it, you are much less likely to risk the wrath of a small child who spots their yoghurt pot in the wrong bin. At six and eight years old, mine love recycling and hate landfill. At the age of three, my youngest picked up her brother’s habits and refused to buy pre­packaged fruit because they know where the packaging will end up. By getting them involved, not only are they developing a strong environmental conscience, but I’m far more aware of the impact that I’m having. The more I learn, the less desire I have to make life my easier by chucking the beans tin into landfill. Here’s what’s worked for us:

  1. Change your language. Stop throwing things in “the bin” and start throwing them into “recycling” or “landfill”. It alters your perspective!
  2. For anyone aged one to 12, crushing up plastic bottles is fun. (Plenty of Dads also fall into this category.) Smaller volumes help your recycler and mean you fit more in your bin, and children love being involved.
  3. If you separate your recycling, then using different coloured bins means you have a great game for pre­schoolers. Matching the item to the right coloured bin will keep them amused forages, and recycling will become an everyday part of their lives.
  4. Children love composting. Specifically, they love emptying the caddy into the compost pile and seeing what kind of goo is forming. Personally, I find emptying the caddy a pain, and I find it gets smelly in the summer, so now the children are older I pay them 20p to do it every two days.
  5. For school­age children, spend some time together researching your waste. Where does it go? How long do things take to break down? There are some great graphics on the web that give timescales of how long household waste takes to degrade.

And when that baked beans can is messing up the kitchen by draining on the dish rack rather than hiding neatly in the bin? I can always rely on the eight ­year ­old to remind me that it will take 250 years to degrade in a landfill site.

Do you teach your children about recycling? What tips can you share?


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