Teaching Children About Waste: 10 Easy Tips

Once we start to think about the global impact of waste pollution it can easily become a very scary thing, which is why it can be a difficult subject to talk to our children about. However, just because the subject may be tough to tackle doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it with our kids. After all, this is the planet we are leaving behind for them and we need to make sure they know how to take care of it. If we raise our children with a better understanding of waste and an appreciation for our planet we can rest assured we are leaving it in good hands. In this article we go over ten tips that will not only help you teach your children about responsible waste management but make it a fun experience for them too!

  1. Start with the Basics: Reduce Reuse Recycle

The ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ is a term we have all heard, but it may not mean very much to a child if they don’t really understand the meaning behind it. Start asking your youngsters questions that will get their brains working and open a discussion between the two of you. Collect a mixture of rubbish from the bins around your home and discuss each item with your child. For example you can hold up a plastic bottle and ask them ‘why is it important to recycle this?’, ‘why do we need to use less of these?’ and ‘can we make this into something new?’.  This will also help you take note of where you could be making recycling mistakes as yourself.

  1. Ask Them More Questions

Ask your children even more waste-related questions to gain a proper understanding of how they view waste and recycling and what they may have already learned about it from school. questions such as ‘if I put this in the rubbish bin, where does it go next?’ will help open up a dialogue between yourself and your child, giving you the opportunity to teach them about where waste goes once it leaves your home. This may be something you can learn together as not many of us actually know what happens to the waste we put in our rubbish bins. While most adults have a basic understanding of what a landfill is and how it negatively effects our planet, not many of us actually do know how our waste makes its way into our oceans or the real harm it can do to our wildlife. The key is not to focus on the negativity of landfills and ocean waste but to focus on the positivity of recycling and repurposing our waste.

  1. Create a Waste Jar

This is a great tip for older children as it will help them gain an understanding of how much waste they are actually producing. While it’s great to teach children the importance of recycling, simply getting them to throw empty cartons and packets into a recycle bin does still conform with a more ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality rather than teaching kids to be conscious about waste. Instead ask your kids to put all their empty crisp packets, bottles, and toy packaging in a clear jar,. They will be able to watch their rubbish build up throughout the week and at the end they can sort out recyclables from non recyclables.  While sorting through the waste try to make it a positive learning experience: teach them where each piece of rubbish will end up if it is tossed into landfill vs. if it is sorted and recycled properly. You can use videos and images to demonstrate this from kid friendly sources. Don’t leave yourself or the rest of the family our either! Get everyone involved with their own waste jar. You could even turn it into a competition to see who can produce the least waste in a week.

  1.  Get Composting

Composting is a brilliant way to repurpose unwanted food scraps and garden waste. It’s also a great way to show children how waste can be repurposed into something useful. Learning how to compost with your little one will also make a great science lesson as it involves balancing the right amounts of nitrogen (food waste, grass clippings etc.), carbon (leaves, twigs, newspaper etc.) and water. To start a compost bin you can either buy a purpose built one or create your own by drilling a few holes into the bottom of a standard plastic bin. Start by filling your bin about a third of the full with dried leaves, twigs and paper scraps. Then, add some manure to give your bin a head start at composting. Next, you can add your veggie scraps and household food waste. Finish by covering the food waste with more twigs and leaves and covering everything with water. When covering with water it’s important not to drown your compost, you simply want to dampen it. You children can help you with your composting project every step of the way, and once you have your compost, you can show them how it garden vegetables and plants to grow.

  1. Learn Together About what Goes Into Making our Throw-Away Products

Find out what goes into our everyday throw-away items and demonstrate this to your child in a way they can understand. A fun way to do this is to use glass bowls or jars and fill them with the amount of each ingredient it takes to make up the item. For example, according to the Pacific Institute the amount of energy taken to create a plastic bottle is equivalent to filling around ¼ of its total capacity with oil, and the amount of water is twice that of its full capacity. Get your bottle, get your bowl and fill it up with oil and water, once your youngster sees them side by side they’re likely to be surprised to see that so much of each ingredient goes into an item we throw away after just one use.

  1. Create a No-Waste Shopping List Together

Have your little one help you with the shopping list. Ask them to help you choose items that can either be recycled or repurposed. No waste can sometimes be a little unrealistic and hard to stick to so if you’re having trouble, try and limit throw away items to just five. Discuss with them how you could make swaps for some of your regular items to less wasteful ones. For example, let them help you pick fruit and veg in paper bags rather than plastic. Getting them involved in learning where their food and other everyday items come from will help them to develop a better understanding of why waste management is important, and pave the way for them to make less wasteful decisions in the future.

  1. Make Your Own Soap!

You don’t need those wasteful plastic bottles of liquid soap to get your hands and body clean! Homemade soap is just as effective at cleaningand making it is a fun, creative activity that both you and your child can enjoy together. All you need to make your soap is some melt and pour glycerine soap and silicone moulds. To make it even more fun for your kids use soap dye to make your designs into fun colours and set some of their smaller old toys into the moulds. Once you’ve made your soap, ask them to compare differences between your fun homemade version and the shop-bought version that comes in a plastic bottle. List the positives and negatives of each kind of soap, concentrating on how the homemade soap has helped save on plastic waste.

  1. Think before You Buy

The likes and dislikes of children are constantly changing. They are always into the next best thing be it a game, a toy a, song or a silly dance someone made up at school! And while it is natural for children to want to fit in with their peers, constantly keeping up with the latest fashions is expensive and wasteful. It is tempting as a parent/carer to give into the wants of our children, especially if we have the means to do so. But allowing them to build a huge toy collection or a fashionable wardrobe isn’t the best way to teach them about waste. The next time your child asks you for something ask yourself and them these three questions: ‘do they have anything similar already?’ ‘Is the old version broken/unusable?’ ‘Can we repurpose any old items instead?’. Even if the answer to every question is no, taking the time to pause and think why we want something is a good way to develop sensible and less wasteful  shopping habits, even at a young age.

  1. Implement a One-in One-Out Method

Each time we buy something new for our children we are adding to the amount of waste we produce. Next time you buy your child a new toy or item of clothing repurpose or recycle one of their old items too. This helps us and our kids become mindful of the waste we create when we buy new products. Take them with you to a recycling centre or second hand store so they can see for themselves how old their items are repurposed or recycled. If you are getting rid of something broken or unusable, make sure they are aware how the item will be disposed of: which parts of it will be made into new products? Which parts will end up in landfill? Doing so will help them develop and understanding that everything we buy has to be disposed of at some point, and pave the way for them to make more conscious buying decisions in the future.

  1. Create Up-Cycled Art Together

Art and craft projects help kids to develop their creative skills in a fun way. Save used yoghurt pots, milk cartons, cans, cereal boxes, paper towel tubes and any other non-hazardous waste packages for a fun afternoon of arts and crafts. Get to work painting, gluing and decorating to transform your once discarded waste into keepsakes that will forever remind you of quality time together. Crafting with waste helps children learn on a basic level that not all waste is waste and it can actually be used to create new, fun things that they can enjoy.