5 ways to teach kids about reducing waste

Our kids learn far more from our actions on a daily basis than what they do from us telling them what the right thing to do is. Teaching kids about reducing waste is one area where this is especially true. We need to be doing the best we can within our means to reduce waste and having processes and systems set up to support our kids to do the same.

Here are five simple ways you can teach kids through actions to reduce waste in the home.

1. Conduct a recycling and waste audit

Review your local recycling guidelines with the kids and educate them on what goes into each of the recycling services you have access to outside and inside the home. For example we have access to the following recycling services:

  • Local government provided green waste (garden waste only)
  • Local government provided paper, cardboard, plastic bottles and containers, glass bottles and jars, aluminium, steel waste
  • Soft plastics - via collection bin at the supermarket
  • Fruit and veggie scraps - home compost

And then of course we have a rubbish bin for waste collected weekly by our local government.

For one day, have a container for each of the recycling services and waste. Ask all family members to put items in the appropriate container and bring home any materials for recycling or waste they have when they’re away from home. This way the family can see the volume of waste materials they generate in one day.

Then go through each container and have the kids assess if the material is in the right one and make changes where they need to be made. Looking at just one day of recycling and waste for a family can be a bit of a shock for kids and parents alike and you can discuss ways you can make it less.

2. Make sure you have easily accessible recycling / compost bins

Now that everyone knows which materials can be recycled in your home, make sure you have recycling / compost / soft plastic bins easily accessible for kids. As much as kids might know where the item goes, they will often resort to shoving the material in the closest or easiest bin to access. More than likely this is the rubbish bin as it is under the kitchen sink or in a kitchen cupboard. Make the recycling bins just as easy to access, so kids will be more likely to use them.

3. Waste free lunch boxes

Lunch boxes can be a significant source of waste. Invest in the best reusable containers you can afford so that kids can take items to school without the need for plastic wrap or plastic bags. Talk to the kids about bringing home any fruit or veg they don’t eat so it can go in the home compost if you have one. As parents we also need to be realistic about what our kids will actually eat at school. There is no point filling up a lunch box with five items a day, if our child only eats three. As much as we want them to eat more, simply packing it in the box is unlikely to change their eating habits! Reduce how much food you pack to only the items you know they will eat.

4. Making smart package selections at the supermarket

While the thought of taking the kids to the supermarket might seem like a nightmare to some parents, it does offer up a great teaching opportunity on how we can make smarter packaging selections at the supermarket. Take the kids along occasionally so they can begin to understand concepts like:

  • Pre-bagged fruit and veg vs loose fruit and veg - if you are buying fruit and veg at your local supermarket there is a big chance you will have the choice of buying a pre-packed bag of apples or apples that you can put into your own reusable bag. Explain to kids how this is an easy way to cut out packaging if you simply bring your own bags and choose your own fruit and veg.
  • Imperfect fruit and veg - many supermarkets are now offering for sale imperfect fruit and veg at discounted prices. Talk to the kids about how the wonky carrot is just as good as the perfectly straight carrot and why we need to encourage the trend of imperfect fruit and veg, so less of it ends up in landfill.
  • Bulk items vs single serve - if you are buying pre-made snacks for the kids’ lunch boxes, take the time to explain to kids the difference in waste when you buy one large box of crackers for example, instead of a bag of individual serve crackers.

5. Introduce them to intentional shopping

The first four points focus on dealing with waste once in the home, which is important for kids to learn about. It is however also critical to teach kids about shopping intentionally and making considered purchases. The best way we can do this is through our own consumer behaviour:

  • Use lists - go shopping with a grocery list and buy only what you need. If the kids say they need new clothes, do an audit of their wardrobe, and determine exactly what they need before you go shopping.
  • Resist impulse shopping - if you are out and you feel drawn to buy something on sale, tell the kids this. Explain to the kids that you want this item, but that you know you don’t need it so you will resist buying it just because it is on sale.

Remind kids that how much waste we have is always dependent upon how much we buy. Buying only what we need is a great way to reduce waste.


Nicole Avery is a Melbourne mum to five beautiful kids aged 11 to 21. She is the master organiser behind the popular parenting blog Planning With Kids and the author of a book by the same name, where she shares tips and tricks for organising the chaos of family life. She is also the founder of Adapt Drinks - non-alcoholic, zero sugar, lightly flavoured, carbonated drinks filled with adaptogenic herbs to help you adapt to life stressors.