Teaching Kids the ABC's of Recycling at School

As school is kicking off all around the country, many educators want to know some ways to teach their K-12 students about recycling that are fun and interactive. Thankfully, there's a ton of fantastic programs and methods to get your students involved in the recycling process while making things interesting for both them and yourself. 

Getting students started at a young age in the recycling process is important, and there are a wide variety of activities you can have your students do in the classroom in order to learn more about how to cut down on trash that goes into the landfill. Fun activities that can educate your students about recycling include constructing a bird feeder out of recyclables, holding an art class where students paint the recycle symbol, showing your students a short video on the basics of recycling, or having a scavenger hunt where students look around a park for recyclable items. Another idea is to tell your students to "upcycle" (another term for reuse) various plastic containers that they find around their house, such as yogurt cups, plastic bottles, or anything else made of plastic that is potentially reusable. Items likes these can be turned into pencil holders, flower vases, or anything else your students can imagine. These are all great ways to make learning about recycling a more interactive process for both you and your students. 

In California, a state-wide recycling challenge has been taking place every year, sponsored by companies such a PepsiCo Recycling and Disney. Whichever school recycles the most pounds of recyclables wins. For 2018 the winning school was Ohlone Elementary School in Contra Costa County, which recycled a whopping 32,306 pounds of trash! With award money available to top schools, this is a great way to get your students involved in a school-wide effort to recycle more. 

The city of New York's sanitation department has spearheaded a city-wide school recycling program initiative, Zero-Waste Schools. This program works with schools to help bring their waste reduction down through recycling, and provide cash awards and grants to schools who create the most effective recycling programs in their school. Categories covered including cleanup and beautification projects, recycling programs, and reusing programs. is another California-based resource that provides educators with a wide-range of information on recycling education, including ways to implement recycling education into classes like Science and History/Social Science. These materials will help your students be aware of the environment and how using eco-friendly practices can benefit the planet. 

Perhaps you just need some quick recycling tips that you can pass on to your class to get the recycling ball rolling. There are lots of videos online that you can show your students to provide some fast, easy-to-understand information about recycling. The California K-12 School Recycling Challenge website has a great video that teaches kids how to go green in a bunch of different ways, including recycling and saving energy.

Waste Management is a company that works with school to create effective recycling programs, including helping in creating recycling programs, putting together bilingual training posters, and assisting in the taking of field trips to local recycling centers. Waste Management can also provide equipment for school recycling events like solar-powered trash compactors, recycling kiosks, composting, and e-waste recycling. Other programs they provide to encourage recycling in schools is their Recycle Rally, where earn point by collecting non-alcoholic beverage containers. Another program provided is the Cartridges for Kids program, where students can bring in DVDs, ink cartridges, cell phones, digital cameras, and other e-waste, from which the school can earn cash. 

As school kicks back into session, there are a ton of excellent ways to get K-12 students across the country educated and involved in recycling!