How to Teach Kids to Recycle

Taking care of the earth is a huge responsibility, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or daunting to teach your kids about recycling! While recycling is just one part of becoming an environmentally friendly family, it’s a great way to instill positive habits in your kids. Even really small changes can make a big impact over time.


[Edit]Introducing Your Kids to Recycling

  1. Watch recycling programming online with your kid. Sites like have lots of great videos about recycling that feature your kid’s favorite characters, like Daniel the Tiger, Curious George, Cat in the Hat, and the Wild Kratts. PBS even has interactive games your kid might enjoy that will simultaneously teach them about recycling and taking care of the earth.[1]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 1 Version 2.jpg
    • Kids will pay attention to what their favorite characters are doing! If Daniel the Tiger is learning how to sort through recyclables, it’ll be easy to bring that conversation to life in your own home.
    • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers fun activities under their Planet Protectors kids program, which can be found online.
    • Some sites offer downloadable coloring pages for kids that’ll teach them about recycling, too.[2]
  2. Sort through the trash with your kids to talk about waste and recycling. This can get a little messy and stinky, so have everyone put on gloves and old clothes. Pull out your trash and sort through it item by item—pull out the items that can be recycled, put food waste to one side, and put non-recyclables in one pile. When you’re done, talk about what you discovered and then put everything back where it should go.[3]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 2 Version 2.jpg
    • This helps your child visually see how much waste you and your family produce daily. It may spark some ideas for how you can cut down on waste!
    • Try asking your kids questions like, “What items do you think can be recycled? or “Where do you think all of this trash goes when it leaves our home?” to start a conversation.
  3. Make a day trip to take special items to the right recycling facility. Things like batteries, computers, appliances, and paints probably can’t go out with your normal recycling. Check with your community guidelines to see where and when those items can be recycled. Then, make a day of it! Gather up the items, drop them off where they need to go, and then do a fun activity, like having a picnic at the park or volunteering to walk dogs at the local animal shelter.[4]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 3 Version 2.jpg
    • Making a day of it turns recycling into an adventure.
  4. Visit a landfill to give your child a visual of what waste looks like. It can be really hard (for both kids and adults!) to truly comprehend the quantity of material that is thrown out. It’s easy to let trash be something that is “out of sight, out of mind,” but the reality is that everything we throw out goes somewhere.[5]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 4 Version 2.jpg
    • Call your local landfill and ask about coming for a visit. Even if you can’t talk to someone who works there, you can at least view the landfill.
    • This can make a big impact on a kid. They may see all that waste and realize that recycling is one of the keys to cutting down on what goes into that landfill.
  5. Put your child in charge of rinsing out containers and flattening boxes. Instead of making this seem like a chore, turn it into something that your kid can be proud of and take ownership of. Even kids who are as young as pre-school age can help do this, though they may need your help with some parts.[6]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 5 Version 2.jpg
    • Make this even more fun by creating a crown, cape, or hat for your kid that makes them the “Recycling Leader.”
    • This activity helps turn recycling into a habit and part of their everyday routine. Plus, it helps continue the conversation about recycling.

[Edit]Recycling at Home and in the Community

  1. Take a look around your own home and talk about what can be recycled. Start in the kitchen and talk about the containers your food comes in, the plates you use, how you drink water, and how you dispose of food. In the bathroom, you can talk about soap and shampoo containers, the cardboard roll the toilet paper comes on, and how you dry your hands. This will help your child pay more attention to the things around them.[7]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 6 Version 2.jpg
    • Try holding up different items and asking if they can be recycled or not. This can be a fun way for both of you to learn more about recycling! If you don’t know the answer yourself, look it up.
  2. Encourage your child to take ownership of a recycling project. You might be surprised at your child’s creativity or how great their ideas are for recycling and making your home more environmentally friendly. Help them execute their plan, but let them take the lead so they feel proud of what they’re doing.[8]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 7 Version 2.jpg
    • For example, maybe your kid is passionate about parks and wants to make sure each one in your area has recycling containers. You could help them organize a petition and get signatures.
    • Maybe your child wants to stop using disposable plates or bottles; help them research and shop for fun substitutes.
  3. Let your child help create a recycling center for your home. Get out the markers and paper and decorate different boxes or bins for your recycling. They could even write out a list of “recycling rules,” like rinsing out food containers, taking the lids off of bottles, and breaking down cardboard boxes.[9]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 8.jpg
    • You could have separate bins for glass, plastic, tin and aluminum, and cardboard and paper.
    • Some communities take all your recycling items together in one container. For teaching purposes, you could still separate things so your kid learns about the different types of recyclables.
  4. Remember to recycle at the park, school, and other communal spaces. Lots of public spaces and schools now have recycling bins for bottles, cans, and other recyclable materials. Even when you’re out having fun, like at the zoo or an amusement park, help your kids be mindful of what they’re doing with their trash.[10]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 9.jpg
    • If there isn’t a place for recyclable materials, bring your trash home with you and recycle it there.
    • When possible, bring along your reusable water bottles and containers so you create less waste.

[Edit]Becoming an Environmentally Friendly Kid

  1. Compost food instead of throwing it out and use it to fertilize a garden. Grab a composting bin from your local hardware store and set it up somewhere in your yard that gets a lot of sunlight. Create a base out of mulch, sticks, twigs, and other natural brown things. Grass clippings can go into the compost bin, too! Every day, collect your food waste and add it to the compost bin along with a little bit of water.[11]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 10.jpg
    • If you live somewhere without a yard, see if there’s a community composting program nearby that you could participate in.
    • If you don’t want to buy a composting bin, you could turn a normal garbage can into one by drilling a few holes in the bottom and on the sides.
  2. Grow a garden to reduce how much food you buy from the store. This is a great way to have your kids do some hands-on work. When you grow your food, you eliminate all the packaging that comes along with the food you buy at the store, which eliminates how much you’ll have to throw out with the trash.[12]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 11.jpg
    • Get your kids involved in preparing snacks and meals with the food from your garden.
    • Plants help combat global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the environment and releasing oxygen.
    • Level up on your recycling skills by using compost from your composting bin to fertilize your garden!
  3. Switch out your lightbulbs for energy-efficient ones. This can be a great lesson about energy, how it’s used, and how you can conserve it. If your child is old enough, let them switch out the bulbs themselves.[13]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 12.jpg
    • Some communities will provide energy-efficient bulbs for free—check with your local power company to see if they have this program available.
  4. Challenge your kids to turn off the water while they brush their teeth. Leaving the faucet running uses up about of water each minute! Over a month, your child could conserve over of water on their own.[14]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 13.jpg
    • Make this more visual by drawing a large jar on a piece of construction paper. Each day, have your child color in a few inches of space, starting at the bottom, to represent how much water they’ve saved.
    • Similarly, you could challenge older kids to see if they can take a shorter shower.[15]
  5. Enjoy family walks or bike rides and talk about gas and the environment. Reducing how much fossil fuel you use is a cool way to help the environment while spending some time bonding with your family. If you live in a bike-friendly city, you could bike to the library, farmer’s market, or local diner.[16]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 14.jpg
    • If your child is old enough, they could even walk or bike to school instead of getting dropped off or taking the bus.
    • The less fossil fuel you use, the less air pollution there is.
  6. Create a special Earth Day tradition. You could make a special meal, plant a tree, clean up the local park, start a garden, build a bird feeder, or simply spend time outdoors. Make nature something to celebrate; having an annual tradition your child will look forward to is a great way to help them love the earth more.[17]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 15.jpg
    • Earth Day is always celebrated on April 22nd. Mark it on your calendar!

[Edit]Repurposing Items to Reduce Waste

  1. Ask your kids to use both sides of the paper when they’re drawing. This is a simple way to cut down on waste. Challenge your kids to see how many times they can use both sides of the paper instead of just one side. Then ask them to do a little math to figure out how many pieces of paper they saved![18]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 16.jpg
    • This is a good time to talk to your kid about trees, paper, and conservation. Watch a video with them online and talk about other ways you can use less paper.
  2. Donate used clothes and toys so they can get a second life somewhere new. Take items that are still in good condition to your local thrift or donation store. Take some time to clean everything beforehand and make minor repairs. You could ask your child to gather a specific number of items from their room, like 5 pieces of clothes or toys that they don’t use much anymore that someone else might like to have.[19]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 17.jpg
    • You could also challenge your family to only buy used and recycled items.
  3. See how many disposable things you can switch out for reusable ones. Ask your kid to help you think about ways your home can become more environmentally friendly. Make it a fun project by tackling one new item a week. Swap out these disposable items for reusable ones:[20]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 18.jpg
    • Lunchboxes
    • Water bottles
    • Travel cups
    • Plates
    • Silverware
    • Straws
    • Napkins
    • Batteries
    • Food storage containers
    • Shopping bags
    • Coffee filters
  4. Decorate reusable tote bags so your family can use less plastic. Gather the paints and craft supplies and transform a plain canvas tote into a cool shopping bag. Make 5 or 6 different totes and keep them in the car so they’re always ready when you have to stop at the store.[21]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 19.jpg
    • You could even have your kid keep a tote bag in their backpack. That way, if they end up with extra things they need to bring home that won’t fit in their backpack, they’ll be able to use their tote instead of a plastic bag.
  5. Turn used items into craft projects. Items like cardboard boxes, tin cans, milk jugs, and egg cartons can be transformed into new objects with just a few supplies. Instead of buying new toys or materials to make crafts, reuse what you already have at home.[22]
    Teach Kids to Recycle Step 20.jpg
    • Make cardboard boxes into decorative storage containers, beds for stuffed animals, or the bases for dioramas.
    • Turn a tin can into a holder for pens and markers with some paint and decorative tape.
    • Rinse out a milk jug and turn it into a bird feeder.
    • Use egg cartons to plant seedlings or succulents or to organize small toys.


  • Keep an eye out for community activities or clean-up days you and your kids can get involved with.[23]
  • The next time you’re planning a birthday party, consider how you and your child can make it greener. Ask friends to bring gifts unwrapped, use real plates and cups, and think about ways to use recycled materials for decorations.[24]

[Edit]Related wikiHows