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Do you ever think about how much trash gets thrown away each day? The average person in the United States throws away four pounds of trash every day, generating over 200 million tons of garbage per year. This is enough trash to fill 63,000 garbage trucks each day, which, if lined up end-to-end, would stretch halfway to the moon! An estimated 20-25 million tons of waste per day comes from electronic waste (i.e., computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, fax machines), which can contain many toxic elements that end up in our air and water.  Using fewer resources in the first place is always a good strategy, but it is also important to recycle what and when we can.  Half of the trash that we throw out -enough to fill an entire football stadium every day-could be recycled instead.

As the National Director of Eco-Healthy Child Care® and a mother of two young children, I know the importance of instilling good recycling habits.   Recycling helps conserve natural resources for future generations and reduces the demand for raw materials that results in habitat destruction and degradation of our forests.  Asking children about their favorite animals, plants, flowers, and places to go outside and reminding them that recycling helps keep these animals healthy and happy and keeps their favorite places beautiful for many years can help get them on board with recycling programs in the home, school, or child care setting.  Recycling also uses less energy than conventional garbage disposal and reduces emission of greenhouse gases and other contributions to climate change. Talking about the basics of energy use in the context of recycling can also be a way to reinforce the importance of recycling and introduce children to meaningful scientific concepts.

Some Eco-Healthy tips for recycling (and engaging children in the process) include:

  • Recycle glass, paper, cardboard, aluminum, and plastic and have children make a game out of sorting the recycling appropriately.
  • Allow children to participate in and assume responsibility for a recycling program in your home or child care setting.
  • Compost food scraps. Worm bins can be fun ways for children to get involved in composting. Be sure to check with your local health department regarding how and where this may done according to municipal and state health regulations near you.
  • Avoid using disposable utensils, plates, shopping bags, and batteries-replace them with re-useable materials instead.
  • Donate unwanted books, toys, magazines, DVDs, and electronics to local charities or other organizations.
  • Minimize the amount of non-recycled paper products you use. Use cloth napkins and towels or those made from recycled content, and use recycled office paper and toilet paper.

Unfortunately, not everything can be recycled.  When you do have to throw away garbage, it is important for individual, public, and environmental health that it is stored properly to minimize pests, odors, and pollution.  Some eco-healthy tips for garbage storage include:

  • Make taking out the trash part of a regular cleaning routine in your home or child care setting. Clean out empty trash cans at the end of the day.
  • Make sure both indoor and outdoor garbage containers (and recycling and compost bins) have tight-fitting lids.  Line indoor garbage containers and rinse all recyclables thoroughly.
  • Keep garbage storage areas such as cans or dumpsters at least 50 feet away from entrances to playgrounds, child care facilities, or homes.  Try to put them on surfaces that can be easily and regularly cleaned, such as concrete pavement.

The Eco-Healthy Child Care ® Recycling and Garbage Storage Fact Sheet offers many more tips and resources. EHCC helps early childhood learning environments to be as healthy, safe, and green as possible by reducing children’s exposure to toxic chemicals.  To see the fact sheet and learn more about recycling and waste management and reduction, click here.