How To Actually Teach Your Kids About Recycling And Conservation

A lot of stuff we think know about recycling is outdated or incomplete, or we hear or read one part of the recycling picture and hang our hats on that alone. Our relationship with the planet is complicated. There is rarely one right way to solve a problem… in fact, problems often need several solutions. So this is how to actually teach your kids about recycling.


As the teacher, you need to know the most accurate information. The point of these steps are to help encourage kids to care and reflect on their own decisions: How do my decisions effect the world?

Schools and businesses have finally started really changing their work culture to recycle. Which is amazing! However, since China is not purchasing our recycling any longer (as of 2019), we have a bunch of recycling that is ending up in landfills. (A nice way of saying a buried heap of trash that slowly leaks out toxic ooze as it breaks down ever so slowly) Check out the links at the bottom of the page for more current information on trash and recycling.

This means the the ultimate answer to our trash problems is to change our trash culture. If our teaching of conservation doesn’t point in that direction, then we are are missing the mark as teachers and parents.

1. Teach Kids To Care!

Listen, there’s no replacement for giving a crap about our world. If kids don’t care, they aren’t going to do anything you tell them anyways. The best way to teach kids to care is to allow them to deal with natural consequences. If they keep swinging a stick around like ninja, it’s probably going to hit them in the head a few times. Once kids understand that their actions have consequences, then they start thinking about their actions. That’s the golden opportunity to start teaching them about how our actions effect our earth.

2. Teach Them About The Earth’s Systems

When we understand how everything works together, it makes one little piece more important. Think Lion King and the great circle of life here. Knowledge is power. When we know how the earth keeps us alive, and how our actions can effect the earth’s systems, our planet means more to us.

3. Describe Big Picture Action-Consequences

For example, when we throw our trash away, it doesn’t just disappear. It goes and sits in our landfills. Or how plastic ends up in the ocean and then kills animals. Or what happens to us without trees. Or why we need an ozone.

4. Provide Attainable Action Steps

Here’s the truth about these steps. Our country is literally burying its self in the plastics that it has created. Most recently, China has stopped buying our recycling which means the US needs to figure out what to do with its recycling. Many places are just throwing it away. The BEST way to stop this process is to stop buying and deposing of things like it doesn’t matter. The US consumes so much excess, and if we want to help our planet, we have to stop.

  • Stop buying things you don’t actually need.
  • Use things until they don’t work anymore.
  • Buy things that can be used more than once.
  • Reduce and carefully use paper products.
  • Correctly dividing recycling products. (Plastic bags NOT in normal recycling, make sure the recycling is clean, etc.)
  • Being careful about wasting our resources like water, electricity, and food.
  • Using less or no harsh chemicals in our homes.
  • Supporting local leaders who are willing to protect our environment.
  • Posting or sharing local recycling guidelines for kids and families. (These can by found on local city websites)

5. Pick One Action Step To Start At A Time

The a huge reason people don’t start new things is because it’s too hard to know where to start. And trust me, I personally understand how overwhelming it is to start making these life changes. So as a family or classroom, pick one action step to do together. When you are feeling like a pro at it, add another one.

Here are some super amazing resources that will help you teach and be an awesome, informed example of recycling and conservation.

  1. How to recycle plastic bags and why:
  2. Find a plastic film or bag drop off location here:
  3. Things that are illegal to throw away (and what to actually do with them):
  4. Trash vs. Recycle:
  5. Is My Recycling Getting Recycled?
  6. BUT a more current article adds more light on what is happening to your recycling:
  7. What happens in a landfill:

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