"I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world." -Richard Dawkins

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Life Recycled

Overwhelming is probably the first word that comes to mind when you consider shifting your footprint from one of carbon consumption to something a little more gentle. It seems everywhere you turn these days, someone’s throwing the word ‘green’ around, and it can be a challenge to figure out where to even start. It’s easy enough to do when you take it one step at a time, and involving the kids can make the transition rewarding in so many ways.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and the first and easiest place is with those three R’s: Recycle, Reduce, Reuse.

In our home, my daughter is really excited about the recyclables. From the moment she was old enough to walk to the recycling bin we encouraged her to carry plastic containers and bits of cardboard from the kitchen into the hallway where the container sat. By the time she could pronounce the complicated R-word, she was already a veteran of sorting trash from recyclable materials. Nowadays you don’t even have to ask. 

To encourage your own kids to begin recycling, first find out what can or cannot be recycled in your location. If you’re in the capital district, County Waste offers single stream recycling, though there are differences depending on your county. To find out, visit County-Waste.com and click Recycling at the top of the page. Once you’re informed, you can make a poster together to hang above the recycling bin in your house. Draw pictures or glue magazine cut-outs to a sheet of paper to show what should and should not be tossed into the bin. Then even the youngest helpers can match the item to the pictures, or read the number on the bottom of plastics, and place them in the bin for recycling.

Let’s not forget the other two R’s, though, as reducing and reusing are just as important as recycling, if not more so. Recycling is better than sending your waste off to a landfill, but it’s important to remember that they require precious resources (such as water) to process all of those items.

Try to buy refills for things you buy frequently, such as cleaners, wipes, soaps and other products that come in a dispenser. It often cuts down not only on price, but also on the amount or type of packaging that gets thrown away. Several brands now in stores have made it a point to use less packaging in their standard items, too, from thinner boxes on frozen dinners to altogether boxless granola bars.

I’ve long made it a point of purchasing grocery items that come in glass bottles and jars instead of plastic. When the last bits have been used up and the container is empty, we soak the labels off of them (Mr. Clean Magic Erasers are great for scrubbing off the last of the adhesive, $7 for 4 at Target,) then wash them inside and out, and see that they get reused.

The glass bottles I use when making my own salad dressings and sauces, because there’s always something left over after every dinner I make. The jars, however, are the real joy. Jars can be used for anything, from temporary storage of home-made foods in the fridge to stashing buttons, push-pins, pens, crayons and just about anything else. Your own kids might enjoy forming their own jar collections. Have them wrangle their change, stones, marbles, Silly Bands or anything else small enough to get sucked up by the vacuum cleaner or lost between the couch cushions. I even use them to store sugar, chocolate chips, flax seeds and other pantry staples when their original packaging becomes compromised.

A few good ideas here and there are all it takes to encourage an eco-friendly mindset. Edging your family toward a greener lifestyle is healthier- not just for the planet, but for everyone!

Simple places to start:
  • Make a recycling cheat-sheet to help teach kids what can and cannot be recycled.
  • Don’t forget your reusable shopping bags when going to the store.
  • Buy items with reduced packaging and keep an eye out for refills instead of buying new.
  • Invest in reusable water bottles and coffee cups if you haven’t already.
  • Keep jars from products packaged in glass to store odds and ends around the house.

Originally written for Kids Fun Plaza magazine on 9/2010. Yes, I own my content.

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