Wasted Youth: How to Teach Kids about Trash

Wasted Youth: How to Teach Kids about Trash

child planting seedsIt’s no secret that children are sometimes wasteful. For the most part, they don’t mean to be – they just don’t understand what it means to act mindfully.

Whether they are throwing away paper that’s barely been used or leaving trash behind, kids contribute to society’s waste management problem without even knowing it. Teaching children how to behave in an eco-conscious way is critical to creating an environmentally-sound household and establishing responsible habits for the future.

Of course, much of what you can teach children depends on their age and temperament. However, it’s safe to say most kids above age 5 are capable of understanding the basics of environmental thinking.

Parents want their children to be helpful, respectful, and purposeful beings on Earth. This means that it’s worth thinking about how to give them the information they need to be conscientious adults. Sounds good, but how?


Kids love to get dirty, so it may be helpful to show them the best way to clean up without wasting precious resources. Just looking around the bathroom where they bathe is a great start to identifying some places for increased awareness.

For one, water is something we should always try to conserve. Taking the extra five seconds to turn off the tap while brushing your teeth is a perfect first step. Think about all the water that goes down the drain while you are scrubbing. It could be enough to water all the plants in the house or drink for several days.

Towels that have only been used once and are not yet dirty can be hung up to dry for future use instead of being put in the hamper for a washing they don’t yet need. Every load of laundry uses about 30 gallons of water. Make sure what goes into the laundry basket really needs cleaning! While it’s true that water can be recycled, learning how to conserve it in the first place is a far more effective solution.


eating childOne thing children are really good at is wasting food. Not only are many picky eaters, their eyes are often bigger than their appetites, leading to considerable waste at the end of each meal.

Teaching kids to take care when considering their portions can lead to less food in the garbage. This means less money spent at the grocery store.

Learning to compost leftovers, rather than dumping them in the trash, can also show children how their decisions impact the Earth in important ways. Most young people will enjoy hearing about the process of decomposition (did someone say worms?) when food is used to enrich soil for future use.

This type of larger understanding often leads to an independent interest in science, conservation, and the need for eco-consciousness.


Especially in the modern age, this is a big one. While most kids really love their electronics, they may not understand how electricity consumption contributes to their carbon footprint.

Turning off lights when you leave the room, shutting down computers when they are not in use, and turning off the TV when you’re done are all fast and easy ways to minimize the use of electricity and create a more efficient and resourceful home.


ballKids love activities like coloring and drawing, but these projects often result in a fair amount of waste. During art time, encourage children to use both sides of the paper. Additionally, always make sure their rejects make it into the recycle bin rather than being thrown into the trash can.

Parents should always be on the lookout for recyclable craft materials like refillable felt-tip pens, natural pencils, non-toxic glue, and reusable containers. Make sure when you buy paints and other pigments, you are finding those made with organic material.

Teach kids to select their toys carefully at the store and find things that will last rather than ending up in the landfill. While this can be challenging to enforce when you are standing in a giant row of plastic action figures, explaining to children why these decisions matter may eventually have them looking for the wooden and natural toys with an appreciation for the reason.


It is possible to teach children to be mindful of overall waste while still engaging their sense of curiosity and purpose. Kids love a good project, so challenge them to find just three areas where they could reduce the amount of waste they produce.

In addition, set a positive example for them by practicing what you preach. Creating a chart with rewards may be a fun idea. You could also incentivize them with the promise of a trip or a cool experience.

The internet is full of excellent resources for engaging children in activities that effect real, purposeful change in the environment. Considering that young people often move through the day with very little sense of power, learning about how their actions make a difference can be highly appealing and – if you do it right – a whole lot of fun!

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