Waste is anything that we get rid of, throw away or do not use. While some items inarguably cannot be used again, many are tossed before their time. Others are unnecessary – such as petroleum-based plastic bags, which choke the environment and kill wildlife, even though we now have access to much better alternatives.
Today, waste is a huge problem, affecting every part of our environment, from our waterways to our atmosphere, our grassy fields to our forests, our plants to our people. If we want to make an impact in the fight against waste and pollution, one of the best things we can do is ensure kids get these lessons young. Whether you’re a teacher or a parent or a concerned kid yourself, here’s a basic rundown of “reduce, reuse, recycle” and tips you can implement today.
“Reduce” is not necessarily the easiest step, though you might think so. While it seems simple to just buy less, we humans can be very set in our ways, relying heavily on products to which we are loyal. To truly implement this step, it’s important to cast a critical eye on what we use, and ask: What could we do better? What don’t we need? What is made of a harmful substance, and can be replaced with something less harmful – or eliminated altogether?
Both grownups and kids struggle with such questions, and it takes effort to begin answering them differently. That’s okay; just practice. You can begin reducing the amount of waste you produce by choosing to buy products that do not create excess waste that later has to be added to landfills. Think meat that comes in styrofoam (a type of plastic, believe it or not), or fruit and veggies that have heavy packaging around them. Choose to not buy single serve products. You can also buy products that have packaging that can be easily recycled, and stop buying bottled water altogether.
To reduce food waste, start a compost pile in the backyard. That way, instead of heading to landfill where it won’t decompose for hundreds of years, food gets a second life as rich soil the following season – a great fertilizer. You can then use your garden to grow food, and avoid having to buy fruits and vegetables that come in packaging.
Since adults do most of the shopping, if you’re a kid, you’ll have to step up and really make your voice heard. Tell them that plastic harms land animals, marine mammals and birds, fish and plants, and that making it pollutes the air. On the other hand, if you’re a grownup, spend time talking through each choice with kids and getting their opinion. No matter who you are, conversation is the key to better choices.
One final idea for reducing is to stop using plastic altogether, as well as paper, which isn’t much better for the environment than plastic. Make sure you always have your reusable bags in the trunk when you go to the store with your parents. You can even start up a fundraiser for your school or church using custom reusable shopping bags with a logo of your choice!
Instead of throwing things away that you might not use anymore, why not give them to someone else? For example, if you outgrow your clothes, you might have a younger sibling or friend that would be able to use them instead of just throwing them in the garbage. You can also reuse items like cups and plates instead of using disposables.
There exist tons of other ideas for how to reuse items as well. For instance:
- Turn broken crayons into pretty candles to give to teachers, family members or just keep in your room (with adult permission, of course).
- Use old jars as tea light holders for special events.
- Buy reusable lunch containers and use those instead of plastic wrap or disposable baggies.
- Stop throwing out old and mismatched socks, and instead make a fuzzy sock snake that you or another kid will love cuddling. (Or if you’re a grownup, surprise a little one on a birthday or holiday with all their old socks turned into a movie.)
- Turn used paper into art supplies or scrap paper for making shopping lists.
Also, make sure you are “reusing” any item that still has life in it. If a toy, piece or furniture or item of clothing can be fixed, do it, and then use it again.
One of the easiest ways to reuse what we already have is to look to our bag closet. Most of us carry home bags from the grocery store several times a week. If you can replace your plastic consumption with just 6-8 reusable bags, you won’t have to think about it again for a year or more. At the least, when you bring home paper or plastic bags, make sure you dry them out, fold them up and bring them back to the store with you next time.
Sometimes, you can’t find a second use for something, and that’s okay. If an item truly is waste, and you can’t cut that item out of your life in the first place, it’s time to recycle. Think cereal boxes or beverage containers, for instance: Some of them simply don’t have a better alternative, and you don’t want to stop eating those things for good. That’s where recycling comes in.
Below are some important facts about recycling:
In a nutshell, recycling is when you use the raw materials from something to make something else. For instance, the glass, metal and paper from bottles, cans and cardboard can be used to make other products. When you recycle these items so that they can become new items, you help reduce the energy used to make new items as well as the raw materials we need to extract from the Earth.
Plus, you might be surprised to learn that recycled products can be used to make all kinds of things. A recycled soda bottle can be used to make lots of different plastic items like combs, toothbrushes, fleece jackets, or even recycled plastic bags and totes to support school functions or drives.
Check out the list of some of the many items that can be recycled below:
- Aluminum cans
- Plastic bottles
- Plastic Bags
- Glass bottles and jars
Remember, you can also recycle leaves, grass, sticks, fruit and veggie trimmings, coffee grounds, newspaper and with the right compost setup, even meat, bread and cheese. If you’re curious about how to build a compost pile, and would like to get one going in your home or classroom, here’s a great tutorial.
This short video is also illuminating, so you might want to watch that before you begin.
For people in the future to be safe, it is important that the planet is taken care of and the environment remain intact now. When you practice the Three Rs of Waste Management, you are doing your part to make the world a healthy and safe place to live. You can do your part by implementing as many of the above tips as possible, and reporting back to us on what worked. When you have success with the above steps, or find tips of your own, be sure to pass them along to kids and grownups alike.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Resources:
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: What Exactly is Waste?
- NASA’s Climate Kids: Recycle This!
- Benefits of Reusable Grocery Bags
- Sid The Science Kid: Recycling
- Recycling Facts for Kids
- Kids Stuff About Waste Reduction and Recycling
- Recycling for Kids and Teachers
- Environmental Education Just for Kids: Recycling
- Using and Saving Energy: Recycling
- Kids Recycling and Waste Prevention
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Resources for Students and Educators
- Recycling Information for Kids
- Reusable Bags What Can You Do
- Plastic Bag Ban Facts
- Best Eco Friendly Promo Products