Nowhere is the phrase, "start them young and early", more appropriately applied than when referring to teaching kids about recycling, sustainability, and being good stewards of this planet. Hopefully they'll be learning about it at school, but the burden falls on parents to assume most of their responsibility and teach youngsters how to keep their environment green.
Early Childhood Training
Beginning as early as three years old, let kids see you set the example first. In other words, verbalize out loud what it is you're doing as you're doing it. For instance, as you drop a plastic bottle in the blue bin, you might say something like, "This is a plastic bottle, and plastic things always go into this blue container." Doing so can teach them how to sort items and how to dispose of them in their proper place. You might even have them scribble a sign to hang over the proper bins that read, Plastics Here! or Papers Here!
You can also have children tape a small plastic jar to the blue bin acquainting with plastic materials. To further involve younger aged children, begin a reward system of giving out little sticker stars with a prize like a sourdough pretzel goes to the child with the most stars. As they grow older, you may substitute little stars for returning bottles, and encourage them to keep the change.
Make a Game Of it
At this environmental protection government (EPA) website, you'll find imaginative, interactive games to stimulate young minds in the vision for protecting their environment. The Dumptown Game actually makes your child into a city manager with critical decision-making activities that engage municipal residents in their own waste management and waste reduction at-home programs. Use games and prizes to make learning and treating the environment right fun and educational.
Young Children to Teens
Having learned the basics of colors and plastics, your next job as a parent would be teaching them about composting. Easily done by setting up a separate bin for discarded tea bags, grass cuttings, veggie peelings, coffee grounds, egg shells, toilet paper rolls, and paper towels, this cuts down not only on the waste, but saves you money on fertilizer supplies as well.
It all comes down to example. Set the stage for how your home runs and try to make a habit of throwing natural waste into the compost pile, using safe fertilizers like Nature Safe on your lawn, and routinely picking up trash and debris from your yard and local parks. When kids see you doing the right thing, they will naturally follow.
Reusing Usable Items
As many items can be reused for other purposes, make your kids aware that a peanut butter jar, for instance, can be transformed into a coin bank once it's been washed clean first. Empty tissue boxes are great for storing grocery plastic bags and a small plastic bag can be used in the family car as a trash bin.
If you visit your local waste management, you'll see what your municipality recommends as far as dumping and recycling materials go. However, all initiatives really must begin at home by educating the children early.