We learn our life habits, for better or for worse, from our parents. When I was growing up, the idea of recycling and the 3Rs was just becoming mainstream.  I remember colouring in 3R worksheets and preaching what I learned to my parents. My Mom was already on board, and she taught me to follow our city’s recycling program to the letter, to wash out and reuse sandwich bags, to use cloth shopping bags and she even made cloth diapers for my brother and me.  My Dad was composting long before it was cool: it wasn’t about the environment, it was about saving money. Compost helped his garden grow without paying for fertilizer.

My son’s been watching his green Mama reduce, reuse and recycle since the day he was born. When he started toddling and we starting frequenting our local park, he helped me pick up litter. Of course, we practice what trash is safe to pick up and what isn’t, and make sure to wash our hands afterwards! Now at almost three, he knows where to find our house’s garbage can, compost bucket and recycling bin. He’s slowly learning what goes where.

Here are some tips for raising your child to be a recycler (and a reducer and reuser):

Lead by example

Just like I do with my son and my parents did with me, the best way to get your children on board is to show them how it’s done. They need to see you turning down plastic bags at the grocery store, choosing foods with less packaging, shopping second hand, riding transit and tossing banana peels in the compost rather than the trash. If you do your job right, they’ll soon be policing you!

Bring in reinforcements

I think what convinced my son to recycle might have been Rocky from Paw Patrol. He first identified the recycling symbol by pointing at it and saying: “Rocky!” So I capitalized on this and we started pointing out recycling bins and watching the recycling truck pick up our bins each week. Other eco-friendly children’s personalities include the residents of Sesame Street and those cute brothers at Wild Kratts.

Make it hands on

Don’t be afraid to let your kids get dirty, whether it’s helping pick up trash in the neighbourhood, digging in the compost or sorting the household’s recycling. Put up your city’s recycling guidelines on the fridge so your children can help figure out what goes where. When it’s time to spring clean, let them choose what toys and books they can donate to charity so they can find a second life. When it’s time to pack litterless lunches, have your children pick out their own reusable snack bags and containers.

You don’t have to have a backyard compost or a city compost program to keep green waste out of landfills. Check out the David Suzuki Foundation’s tips for starting an indoor compost.

Reap the rewards

Making eco-friendly decisions can bring concrete rewards! I picked up every can and bottle I saw and returned them for a refund when I was a kid. Donating their used goodies to thrift stores or consigning them can earn coupons or cash to buy something new (to them). It’s also important to talk about why reducing the amount of waste we produce is important for our society and the world as a whole.  Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax is a powerful teaching tool.

Set goals

For older children, setting goals can be a fun way to add a challenge to the 3Rs routine. Weigh a week’s worth of trash, and find ways to reduce that weight in a month’s time. Or, up the ante, and have each family member keep their own personal trash for a comparison at the end of the month. Whoever makes the least amount of trash wins!

How do you encourage your children to reduce, reuse and recycle?

Lindsay Gallimore is a former high school teacher now working from home as a translator and a blogger at Maman Loup’s Den. She strives to help her readers find the eco parenting balance – making choices for their families that are both eco-friendly and economical.