Reduce Reuse Recycle: 4 Fun Activities to Teach Kids about Reducing Waste

By Sher Warkentin in Thinking Sustainably

While the three Rs—reduce reuse recycle—are catchy, teaching kids what they actually mean can be a bit challenging. Reusing and recycling are fairly easy concepts to learn, even for younger kids, but what about reducing? Hands-on lessons that are both fun and educational are always great ways to illustrate complex ideas. Here are a few activities that teach kids about reducing waste.

Cardboard box with

1. Reduce Sleuths

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more food waste ends up in landfills than any other material. Teach your kids how to minimize household waste with a fun mystery game investigating trash. No need to get gross digging through real garbage; instead, set aside some trash items over a few days and set up a separate trash bin filled with different items your family usually throws away, including some not-too-messy food scraps.

Let your kids put on their rubber gloves and start sorting through the mess. The object of the game is to discover items that could potentially be removed from the waste system, reducing the amount that ends up in landfills. When your child finds an item, have them explain an alternative to throwing it away—either by recycling, composting, or purchasing a waste-reducing alternative.

2. Grocery Store Scavenger Hunt

The grocery store is the perfect setting to learn about products that create waste and how to avoid them. On your next trip to the store, plan a waste-reduction scavenger hunt. Challenge your kids to find five items that yield too much waste and five alternatives to those items that generate less waste. Differences in snack and drink packaging, for example, are good hints. Don't forget to put them back when you're done!

3. Zero-Waste Challenge

Reducing waste is an entirely attainable goal. Challenge your kids with a no-waste family challenge. Let your kids come up with ways that they can work toward producing zero waste. Consider biking or walking to school (or work) in nice weather and making sure lights and faucets are turned off when you leave a room. Of course, pack waste-free lunches!

Challenge everyone to follow the waste-free rules for a week. You can decide on a reward for the entire family if the week is a success, like a fun hike or other outdoor excursion. When the week is up, reflect on how easy or difficult the changes were, and encourage one another to maintain your new habits.

Trash bin containing crumpled yellow paper

4. More or Less?

When teaching younger kids about big ideas like reducing waste, it's helpful to pare things down and focus on the foundations of the concept. Waste reduction, in its most basic terms, is about less versus more. Play a math-based counting game to teach your little ones the difference.

Using toys or another group of objects you have around the house, put items together in two groups and have your kids pick the group with the most or least items. Use this game as a basis for their application of waste reduction in real-world situations. For example, if your child tends to leave food on their plate, count how many items are left over and make a plan to serve less the next time so none of the food gets tossed.

What are some fun family activities you've used to explore the concepts of "reduce reuse recycle?" Share them with us on Twitter!

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Why It's Good

Kids can have a hard time fully understanding complex concepts like reducing waste to help the environment. Fun, hands-on activities can provide quality family time while giving them an impactful, educational lesson about sustainability.