The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970. Saddened by the devastation caused by a 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin worked with California Representative Pete McCloskey to organize the first Earth Day. Today, it’s an annual celebration that aims to increase awareness of environmental issues, inspire people to change their behavior, and spur policy change. It’s also a golden opportunity to show your kids how to recycle, explain why it’s important, and get them excited about doing it!
First, brush up on what materials New York City accepts for recycling. According to the Department of Sanitation, most metals (like cans, aluminum foil, and tools) are recyclable, except some electronic appliances which must be disposed of separately. Glass bottles and jars are recyclable, as are most rigid plastic products, paper, and cardboard. Notable exceptions include soiled paper, hardcover books, foam plastic, and plastic bags. If you’re recycling something that had food in it, don’t forget to wash it before it goes in the recycling bin! Visit nyc.gov for the complete list.
Then help your kids understand why recycling is so good, both for the earth and for us. Try making it relevant to them, using quantities they can understand. According to Recycle Across America, recycling just one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a TV for three hours. That’s six hours of SpongeBob! Recycling a three-foot tall stack of newspapers saves an entire tree! Scaling down the way you talk about recycling makes it more accessible to kids.
Once your kids understand why it’s important, you can move on to the exciting part! Make recycling fun for them by making art with recycled materials, like making their own paper out of old paper scraps (instructions can be found here). You can also let them decorate their own recycling bin so they’re excited to use it. Or try providing incentives to recycle: Let them add money from bottle returns to their allowance or give them small rewards for reaching recycling goals.
And recycling isn’t the only way your family can go green this Earth Day. Go through your kids’ closets with them, find clothing and toys that they don’t want or use anymore, and donate them! Some apartment buildings also have composting programs, which is a great way to limit what ends up in landfills and create something useful (fresh dirt!) in the process. More information can be found here.
Whether your kid becomes an environmental superhero or is simply more conscious about what they put in the garbage can, they’re still helping save the earth.