Going green - how your family can help the planet

Worried about the planet your kids are going to inherit? Then do something about it! A whopping 85% of all the waste we produce each week is recyclable – and if you can get your family thinking that it’s easy being green, it’s a step in the right direction that’ll give your children the chance to set things right in years to come.

We’ve all heard about global warming and worried we’re in danger of being flooded out of our homes if the polar ice cap melts. We’ve all read those newspaper reports about mega-sized landfills full of disposable nappies. We’ve all seen news reports about ‘freezer mountains’ getting higher and higher as we switch to CFC-free appliances.

It all seems as if it has gotten out of control and you not alone if you think there’s really not much you can do about it. But you’d be wrong: in fact, a whopping 85% of all the waste we produce each week is recyclable. It’s the small day-to-day efforts we make that add up to something big – and if you can get your family thinking that it’s easy being green, it’s a step in the right direction that’ll give your children the chance to set things right in years to come.

Find out what your council recycles

Call your local waste collection department for info and make sure you do recycle all the items it collects, via its bag or box scheme. The usual suspects are plastic bottles, tins, cans and cooking foil/foil containers, glass bottles and jars, newspapers, magazines, card and cardboard.

Visit local recycling banks

Large supermarkets usually have a bank of recycling banks in the car park for newspapers, bottles and cans along with old clothes and shoes. Good, clean clothing will be welcome at your local charity shop and many charity shops also accept furniture in good condition.

The average UK household produces more than a ton of waste each year. Think of it like this: it all adds up to a weight equivalent to 3.5 million double decker buses – and if they came in threes, like they usually do, they’d stretch around the planet two and a half times.


Anything you don’t want that is in good condition can be passed on to someone who needs it via Freecycle, an online resource that lets you advertise your free stuff. Registration is free and you may well pick up a few bargains yourself.

Do the garden a favour

It’s reckoned that over 30% of what goes into your dustbin could be used for compost – and your flowerbeds will be forever in your debt for the regular supply of nutrients, as will the peat bogs that are in danger of being decimated for garden use. Visit your local garden supply store for a proper composting bin, or use any large plastic bin with a tight-fitting lid. Fruit and veg peelings, used tea bags, coffee grounds, grass cuttings, eggshells, thin cardboard (think cereal boxes and loo paper tubes) are suitable: dump it all in there with the odd layer of loosely scrunched newspaper to allow air to circulate and keep it nice and warm by positioning the bin in direct sunlight and covering it with a polythene sheet. A word to the wise: don’t put any old bones or cooked scraps in it or you’ll attract rats.

Bring it all home…

There are so many small things you can do in your home…

  • See the bin as the last resort – if you can, place it outside the house so that it isn’t so readily available.
  • Re-use plastic grocery bags or use canvas bags or a shopping trolley to carry your groceries in; plastic bags can also be used as bin liners.
  • Decorate empty jars or tins to use as storage pots in the kitchen or bathroom.
  • Re-use old envelopes and jiffy bags.
  • Support your local milkman: he’ll supply milk in glass bottles which you return for re-use recycling and re-use instead of plastic bottles and cartons. Milk bottles can be used up to 13 times before being recycled!
  • Buy recycled products such as toilet tissue and kitchen paper: it’s this that makes it worth recycling in the first place!
  • Set your children a good example by not buying things you really don’t need.

Get the kids on board

Young children don’t often see the big picture, so if you want to get them enthusiastic about the recycling habit it’s best to keep your encouragement and explanations fairly small-scale. Explain how making new things from scratch is more expensive than reusing items that have already been made – here is a good example: every can made from recycled cans saves enough energy to power a TV for three hours!

Simply binning something that could be used again is a waste of all the time that went into making it in the first place. And making things like plastic bottles and bags creates a lot of pollution and uses up a lot of water – if you re-use old plastic bottles and bags you’re halfway there already. Talk to them about things they can do to make a difference…

  • Check the toys they want for birthdays and Christmas use rechargeable batteries.
  • When those birthdays roll around suggest they make room for the new by going through their toys to see if there are any in good condition they no longer play with that can be passed on to friends, charity shops or the local toy library or doctor’s surgery.
  • Stop pestering you for snacks packaged in plastic, especially small individual packaged items that come in a bigger plastic package.
  • Try to steer clear of takeaway foods that tend to create a lot of waste in the shape of packaging that may not be recyclable.
  • Stick to drinks they can pour into a reusable plastic drinks bottle instead of individual cans or cartons of juice or fizz.

Find out more

Recyclezone has great interactive and educational content for kids.
Recycle More has info on what you can recycle in your area plus a guide to what the different recycling symbols on packaging mean.
Freecycle Register with your local group to post details of household and other items in good condition that are free to whoever wants to come and pick them up.

Related Advice