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  • author

    Magdelize Janse van Vuuren

  • Published on

    September 15, 2020

  • Reading time

    6 minute read

Teaching Recycling in Childcare While They are Still Young

Why Teaching Recycling and Sustainability

“Giving children a healthy start in life, no matter where they are born or the circumstances of their birth, is the moral obligation of every one of us.” – Nelson Mandela

Everyone is talking about recycling nowadays, in some form or another – The Green Revolution is upon us! Carbon-neutral! Carbon-zero! Carbon-negative! CSR! Solar power! Wind power! Seapower! Climate change! Sustainability! 

The list goes on and on… 

You can’t be blamed for getting confused about all this terminology, and maybe even feeling a bit guilty because you are not one hundred per cent up to speed with the latest developments in these areas. 

Rest assured – very few people are experts on these topics. Things are changing so rapidly in this world of ours, that to just stay abreast of the latest developments within our specific functional area – education – is already a challenge, and in fact, amounts to a full-time job! 

So, you cannot be blamed for feeling a little negative about all these new-fangled concepts with which we are being bombarded daily by the media, politicians, scientists, and sociologists. 

“I do have a day job to take care of, after all!” 

Believe me – you’ve got our sympathy. And nobody expects you to be an expert about the world of climate change or about every initiative to save the planet. 


However, despite a certain President’s protestations about the veracity of climate warming and other climate change dangers, fact remains that there are definite challenges ahead of us as far as managing the environment is concerned. Many of these challenges will not necessarily impact us during our lifetimes. 

They will however almost certainly impact our children and grandchildren’s lives. That much is scientifically sure (we are not climate scientists, nor is it our aim to be a panacea for problems in that regard, but here are a good number of authoritative sources on the matter, should you wish to study this phenomenon further). 

Recycling is a subset of being generally sensitive about looking after our environment. And matters related to sustainability, like recycling, also make good business sense. 

So, what is recycling exactly? It is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. Recycling can benefit your community and the environment. 

And if it is especially our children who are going to have to deal with the aftereffects of how we are managing our planet at present, then it makes just so much sense that we educate them now already about recycling and its benefits. 

This article aims to provide an overview of how recycling works, in the process showing how we may enable our children to be responsible residents of a sustainable planet. 

Recycling and How it Works

Recycling is important to preserve the environment. The average American throws away four pounds of trash daily (not to belittle Americans – they just keep better stats!). That is more than 1.5 tons of waste per person per year. Multiply that by six billion people and one gets an idea of the scale of the problem worldwide. 

First off, apart from getting actively involved within the community at various levels, there are many ways in which organizations can contribute to their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).

These include (for manufacturers) design of the packaging with recycling in mind, buying from responsible suppliers, better waste management, supporting environmentally friendly disposal practices, and recycling and reusing materials (we will come to the difference between these two concepts a bit later). 

Many countries and organizations are nowadays espousing the virtues of recycling, and of eliminating waste. This is also increasingly happening in the Middle East.

Qatar is one example – on 10 February 2020, their Education Ministry launched an initiative to reduce paper consumption.

Qatar prints something like five million sheets of paper per day, which equates to 500 trees. It is a small country, so one can only imagine what the consumption levels are like in large industrialized nations! 

The Qatar Education Ministry issued a directive to educational institutions to rationalize printing papers and use electronic alternatives, stating that: 

“All of our schools and kindergartens are characterized by high electronic efficiency in terms of providing modern devices, the Internet and qualified staffs, and there are no material or human obstacles in applying the electronic system as an alternative to paper printing.” 

This approach applies specifically to Reducing, one of the three “R’s” of sustainability; the other two being Reuse and Recycling

When it comes to recycling per se, there are specific guidelines in this regard. These include: 

  • Recycle clean paper, bottles, cans and cardboard. 
  • Keep food and liquid out of your recycling (there are specialist food recycling companies that recycle food with inter alia wooden chips to produce compost, biogas, etc).
  • No loose plastic bags and no bagged recyclables. 

More specifically, the following illustration shows how one can go about it:



Sustainability and Children – Easy Ideas to Get Them Involved!

First, we need to help our kids understand what sustainability is and its impact on the ecosystem.

While a broad concept, sustainability basically boils down to understanding the impact that we have on the earth, and what we leave for future generations. 

Children are like sponges – they learn very rapidly, and they pick up quickly on what is important to you, the teacher.

Therefore, the example you set when it comes to sustainability and recycling is of cardinal importance. 

When teaching children about recycling it is necessary to explain to them why we should recycle. Teach children that the earth is their home and that it, therefore, deserves their care and respect. They should understand that there is a strong relationship between us and the environment and that their daily actions can affect the earth positively or negatively. 

Starting with the basics is a great way to teach them fun recycling projects. It is easy to teach them that there are essentially three ways in which they may have a positive impact: 

  • Reduce: Cutting back on the amount of waste created daily. For example, reduce waste by teaching them to use paper bags (or reusable bags) at the grocery store instead of plastic bags. Use digital means of communication rather than paper-based – as an example, Parent does not even print business cards for their staff – they only use “digital stationery.”
  • Reuse: Here are many examples, e.g. reusable cutlery lowers the energy that is needed to make new products, and it also can be reused to prevent more waste to be disposed of.

Before something is thrown away – think if there are other possibilities – could it be reused for another purpose? How about an old T-shirt? It could be used as a rag to clean the car. 

  • Recycle: We have defined this in some detail, but the following are examples: aluminum can be used to create more cans, while paper and cardboard can be recycled to generate more paper products.

A good way to start children off on this is as a simple exercise to separate paper and cardboard waste at school (or home for that matter) from plastics and metals.

These should be placed into appropriately labelled bins.

For example, green plastics should be placed in one bin and white plastics in another. Glass products should also be separated according to colour.

You can also use paper to make fun of recycled paper crafts

Organizing a walk through the neighborhood or a local park is another great way to get kids involved in recycling.

Show the children how to identify recyclable litter to clean up. 

Also, as a teacher, you can implement a community recycling program if one does not exist. Involve other teachers, schools and parents to do this.

You can raise the idea at a parents’ night or similar gathering. 

Composting is another fun recycle project for kids.

They can help to compost yard waste and vegetable scraps.

When items are sufficiently composted, they can help (and have fun!) to distribute composted materials in the school garden, as compost makes excellent fertilizer. 

Many websites provide simple guidelines for doing this. 

Other Tips for Sustainability and Savings

In general, focusing on sustainability does not have to be difficult. With the tips below, anyone can do it – children will follow your example, whether as teacher or parent: 

  • Turn off lights in rooms that you are not using. 
  • Set up a recycling bin(s). Make it easy to separate recyclables from other trash. 
  • Recycle as many cans, bottles, books, metal, aluminum, glass, newspapers, and electronics as you can.
  • Reduce the number of products you buy, use and throw away. 
  • Turn off the water when brushing your teeth. 
  • Unplug chargers for your cell phone when not using it. 
  • Turn your PC off instead of leaving it running with the screen on. 
  • Reuse things as much as you can. 


Teaching our children about sustainability need not be a difficult undertaking. Starting with fun activities like recycling and reusing is the easiest way to go, whilst simultaneously spreading the subtle message about the importance of these activities to the environment and the planet. 

Most important though – set the example…