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

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

You want your children to be responsible; 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(ish).

Baba+Boo Recyling Week

Setting 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't always 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.

The floor under the highchair looks like you've not wiped it in a week; there's a teething ring in the cat bowl and you've not emptied the wash you put on six hours ago. When you spot the congealed hummus that's been forgotten at the back of the fridge, the desire to scrape out the hummus and rinse the plastic pot may not be...over-whelming.

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. That means we have  a little compost caddy and one bin with two compartments - ­ recycling on the left, non­-recycling on the right. Simple...

Until I give you a standard Tuesday evening teatime. There are baked beans on the floor and water is flowing from the edge of the table. Someone has knocked over the wine bottle which was sitting next to the recycling because there wasn’t enough room in the bin. That’s knocked the lid off the compost caddy, so the kitchen is filled with the gentle aroma of rotting cauliflower.

And what am I doing amidst the chaos? I’m standing at the sink rinsing the baked beans tin, because I know that if I try to surreptitiously manoeuvre it towards the non­-recycling bin, the 8­ year ­old hawk will either see me do it or find it later.

It’s then that a voice from behind asks The Question That Is Asked Every Single Day. “Mummy, can this be recycled?”

Today, my back is turned. It gives me the time I need to remind myself that my initial answer to that question must always be uttered under my breath.

Despite the teatime fiascos, the muttering and the gunky hummus, the simple fact is this is a good choice. 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 his 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 pre­-packaged fruit because they know which bin the packaging will end up in. Because they are invovled, they are developing a strong environmental conscience - and 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 as well as theirs!

  2. For anyone aged one to 12, crushing a plastic bottle 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 pre­-schoolers. Matching the item to the right coloured bin will keep them amused for ages, 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, so now the children are older I pay them 20p to do it every two days. Which makes us all happy.

  5. For school­ age 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 is annoying me 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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