Kid-Friendly Recycling Ideas

It’s not always easy to get family members to cooperate with green-living ideas like recycling. Teaching kids about the importance of recycling and how to recycle – AND making it as easy as possible really can help.

10 Smart ways to help get kids on board with recycling are:

  1. Talk to kids early about why we recycle.
  2. Make it relatable to them.
  3. Keep things simple.
  4. Make it convenient.
  5. Use games to teach them the basics of recycling.
  6. Show them the bigger picture.
  7. Make recycling at your house a fun competition.
  8. Show kids how they can make money by recycling.
  9. Read them stories about recycling and keeping the environment clean.
  10. Be a good role model!

Those are all really excellent ideas. But it might seem a little overwhelming and you could be wondering where to start. Never fear, I’ve got you covered.

Try these 10 Tips to Get Kids Onboard with Recycling

1. Talk to them early about recycling.

Americans are behind! Yes, it’s true. When it comes to recycling we are way behind several countries in the European Union and other areas of the world.

Germany has the highest recycling rate in the world. Austria, South Korea, and Wales are close behind. These countries recycle between 52% and 56% of their municipal waste! The U.S. comes in 25th, only recycling about 34% of its municipal waste. (And that estimate is probably a bit high.)

When it comes to plastics the European Union recycles about 30% while the U.S. is only recycling about 9%. Why is this? Don’t Americans care about our environment?

Of course we do! It just turns out that kids in the E.U. are exposed to the idea of recycling at an earlier age. They are used to recycling. They are taught about it in school. They’ve been doing it regularly practically since birth, and it’s gotten to be second nature.

… in Europe, “recycling is the cultural and social norm,” Nordmeyer says. Europeans have been recycling for many years, and children there are educated about it at school and at home starting at a young age. “In the US, we tend to teach to the test, and recycling isn’t on the test,” he says. “But it should be.” 


So talk to your kids about recycling. Don’t just rely on the school to teach them. Be hands-on. Be proactive. Do it at a level they are ready for. But start early.

Every time you put something into the recycle bin you can say. “Plastic bottles go into the recycle bin,” or whatever you are tossing in there. It doesn’t have to be complicated, especially when they are young. Just start talking about what you are doing so they notice and can copy your efforts when they are old enough

2. Make it relatable to them.

When kids are little you can just explain why you recycle by saying because it helps the bunnies and the squirrels and the birdies when we don’t leave trash in their outdoor homes and when we recycle. If your little one has a favorite animal, then use that animal as an example. Keep your message positive and light. As they get older you can explain more about the process.

3. Keep things simple.

Depending on the age of your children you might only want to teach them whether an item goes into the waste bin or the recycle bin. They may not be old enough to understand how to separate out glass, paper, plastic or other types of sorting.

The more complicated it is the more chance they have to get it wrong. And it’s really important to make sure that this is a fun and not an overly confusing or overly challenging experience, especially for little ones. Otherwise, they will just get frustrated and won’t want to have anything to do with it.

4. Make it convenient.

Keep some recycle bins in kid’s rooms so that they are handy. Not a fan of the idea of so many different bins around the house? Be sure that your central recycle bins are at your little one’s level and marked so they can easily remember what goes where. Sticking pictures on the outside of the bins can be helpful.

5. Use games to teach kids about recycling.

Many studies have shown we learn a lot more quickly when we are playing a game than when we are just told something. Recycling games can get kids interested and teach them a lot, without it even feeling like learning.

Fortunately, there are a lot of free games that are already out there that can teach your kids about the process of recycling. Here are 4 computer games you might want to check out. They are listed in order of difficulty with the easiest one first.

Litter Critters helps kids sort litter into 4 different categories. You can select easy or hard difficulty levels. Kids even get to select a cute character like a raccoon or chipmunk to use as their player avatar. It’s fun and helps kids understand what can be recycled and what can’t and how to sort some of those things into the correct categories. You can access the game here.

Recycle Round-Up by National Geographic can help your kids learn to sort articles into compost, recyclables or trash. The game has a superhero monkey who’s in a park. He has to zip around and pick up various items and sort them into the correct bins. It takes a little more dexterity with a mouse than Litter Critters and there is a 2-minute timer. So it adds a bit of a challenge. You can access the game here.

Turtle Diary’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle game lets you sort items into either recycle, compost or waste bins. The items roll by on a conveyor belt but the belt actually stops to let you sort them. This would make it a little less difficult for kids who don’t work a mouse as well or get flustered when they have a time limit. You can check out the game here.

Be Recycled is a game that takes place at a Mixed Recovery Facility – or factory where mixed recyclables are taken to be sorted and then sent on. In this game, you sort out recyclables on a conveyor belt (that you can change the speed on) and if you send too many recyclables to the landfill you end up losing the level. There are 7 levels and when you do well you can actually earn “cash” to buy more sorters. This game is a bit more complicated so you might want to give it a try to see if your child would enjoy it. See how good of a sorter you are by clicking here.

Recycle City – This game was created by the EPA and it’s a lot more detailed as far as the information it gives about everything from cutting back on packaging, cutting down on food waste, which products are recyclable, how to save energy, and even how to make sure you avoid hazardous waste! No kidding, there is a lot of info here. Basically you click on the map and a text box will come up to tell you more.

This game requires quite a bit of reading and might get boring for younger children or kids who want moving objects and more excitement in a computer “game.” Fortunately, there are actually two computer games you can play here as well. They are a bit slow to load the first time and they do require a fair bit of reading.

This resource has a ton of great info. It would be a good match for a child who’s really into learning more about recycling and helping the environment. If that’s your, child, they could have a lot of fun with this. You can check it out at the EPA’s website here.

If you want to stay away from computer games and cut down on screen time this is a game you can make for yourself to use with younger children. It’s called The Recycling Think and Sort game. I’d love to take credit for it but Allison McDonald from created it. You can see how it works at her website here.

A row of recycle bins for various items

6. Show them the bigger picture.

At some point as your children get a little bit older (you might be there now) let them see the bigger picture. You might take them on a field trip to a recycling plant. You might visit a landfill.

If a “field trip” isn’t in the cards then you could watch a YouTube video together about the importance of recycling and reducing waste. It can help kids buy into why they need to sort their trash when they see the huge issue we are dealing with when it comes to waste disposal.

Here are two possible videos you and your kids might enjoy.

This one that takes you on a trip behind the scenes to an MRF Recycling Facility in Cittendon, VT

This one takes you on a tour of the recycling process in London, Ontario, Canada

7. Make recycling at your house a fun competition.

If you have more than one child make it a competition to see who can end up with more recyclable things in their personal recycle bin at the end of each week. The winner can get a special treat like staying up a half-hour longer or getting extra time on their computer game or whatever feels right to you.

A person picking up a plastic bottle from the beach

8. Show kids how they can make money by recycling or help charity.

Many areas have places where you can redeem plastic or glass bottles and aluminum cans for cash. What kid wouldn’t want to supplement their allowance by collecting these items? Be sure that you the kids with you so they see the actual process of how taking their collected recyclable items in translates into cash. It makes for a better learning experience.

Some areas have places to drop off your recyclable bottles or cans and then the proceeds go to charity, like an animal rescue shelter. If your child loves animals they might enjoy turning their recyclables to help a charity like this.

9. Read them stories about recycling and keeping the environment clean.

When they are little your kids will enjoy the series of books called Little Green Books by Simon and Shuster. Titles include a lift the flap book about reusing and recycling called Don’t Throw That Away by Lara Bergan, and I Can Save the Earth a story about a monster who learns to reduce, reuse and recycle by Allison Inche. Plus they have many more. Click the titles above to check them out on Amazon. Or look for them in the children’s section of your library. They are lots of fun.

As kids get older you can look for newspaper articles to share with them that talk about the importance of recycling and highlight “wins” and positive stories to help them see how each individual can make a difference.

10. Be a good role model!

What we say may have some impact on our kids. But what we actually do is what really matters. Set a good example for your kids by letting them see you recycle and make green choices in your daily life – even when it is a little bit harder or takes a little more work.

Kids are always watching us and take their cues from what we do.


I’m so happy you are interested in teaching your kids more about recycling and getting them on board with the whole process. The planet needs all hands on deck to fix some of the problems we have. The earlier we start showing our kids how to take care of the Earth, the better!



Sort The Recycling Game

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