Kids Inspiring Kids: 6 Ways To Teach Kids About Recycling

Ryan Hickman holding plastic bottles

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Parents know that getting their kids outside every day is important for their health and happiness. What if you could combine some glorious time in the fresh air with good deeds for the environment? One 10-year-old has done that for himself — and for the environment — and he hopes to inspire others to do the same.

Editor’s note: Earth911 teams up with affiliate marketing partners to help fund our Recycling Directory. If you purchase an item through one of the affiliate links in this post, we will receive a small commission.

Ryan’s Recycling Journey

In his young life, Ryan Hickman has recycled over 630,000 cans and bottles. His efforts are not only keeping the Earth clean, but they have helped him raise money for a good cause. He has donated just over $9,000 to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, California.

Ryan’s dedication to the environment began at age 3, when he visited the local recycling center with his dad and cashed in a few small bags of recyclables. Ryan’s hands-on philanthropic spark was lit, and he gave his neighbors empty plastic bags to save their recyclables for him so he could keep more cans and bottles from reaching the ocean.

Ryan holding plastic bottles and wearing Sand Cloud T-shirt

Ryan has recycled over 630,000 cans and bottles and encourages others to recycle as well. Image courtesy of Sand Cloud

Ryan’s journey is documented on Ryan’s Recycling, which keeps a running tally of the number and weight of cans and bottles he has recycled. Ryan even personally picks up aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and glass beverage containers from customers in Orange County. His eco-friendly efforts have landed Ryan on everything from The Ellen DeGeneres Show to Good Morning America, and CNN to National Geographic Kids. Internationally recognized, Ryan has been awarded again and again for his recycling efforts.

Now, Ryan has partnered with Sand Cloud, a socially conscious lifestyle brand known for its sustainable beach towels and mission to #SaveTheFishies. Sand Cloud named Ryan their recycling “Ambassador of the Year” and sell Ryan’s recycling shirts for children, made of 100 percent recycled materials. Every “Make the Sea Trash Free” shirt is made from eight plastic water bottles. Ten percent of these profits are donated to grassroots marine conservation organizations.

Ryan’s and Sand Cloud’s goal is to empower the next generation of kids to take better care of our planet by creating less plastic waste, recycling more, and protecting our oceans. Eighteen billion pounds of plastic goes into our oceans every year. There is no time to waste.

T-shirt with print saying, "Make the sea trash free"

Made from recycled materials, 10 percent of profits from sales of the “Make the Sea Trash Free” T-shirt go to marine conservation. Image courtesy of Sand Cloud

Activities To Teach Kids About Recycling

Everyone has the power to make a positive change — even kids. Especially kids. There are hundreds of small but meaningful ways children and families can contribute to recycling efforts in their own home, school, and community. But doing begins with teaching.

  • Pack a waste-free lunch: While you may be in a routine when packing your kid’s lunch (and your own), take a day to brainstorm how you can both create a waste-free lunch. Reusable containers, washable napkins and utensils, and a sustainable thermos are convenient and easy to clean.
  • Recycle at home: If you don’t already have a recycling bin at home, dedicate a trash can to recycling in your kitchen. Your kids — and you — will quickly see just how much trash your household can produce in one day or week. You may feel insignificant in the greater scheme of things, but one person’s impact on the environment can be massive.
  • Watch a video: Today’s kids are happy to watch a screen; use this tool to share information with them. Gather up a few great recycling videos that offer information about what damage is being done to the Earth and how everyone’s recycling efforts can help.
  • Take a field trip: Just like Ryan, you can take your child to a recycling center to see how plastic and glass really are given a second life. Or organize a field trip for your child’s entire class. One excited, determined, and empowered kid can influence dozens more.
  • Read: Popular characters and book authors have tackled the topic of recycling. For the kids who love a good story, and the parents who love a book with a positive message, check out The Earth Book, The Berenstein Bears Go Green, 10 Things I Can Do to Help My World, or One Plastic Bag.
  • Give on-the-spot lessons: You can sit down and talk about recycling, or you can point out the most earth-friendly options when a situation arises. Show your child ways to make a big difference at home or away from home with small choices, like using a recycling bin instead of a regular garbage can. Make sure they understand what can go in the recycling bin and what can’t.
Ryan and crew of other kids for beach cleanup

Ryan and local youth gather for beach cleanup and show off his apparel in collaboration with Sand Cloud. Image courtesy of Ryan’s Recycling.

Your child’s recycling efforts don’t have to be grand like Ryan’s. Some kids feel better about doing their part under the radar. They want to know that they personally are helping the environment in their own way.

Recycling is easy, and it doesn’t really take any time at all. You can teach your kid to read, ride a bike, tie shoes, clean their room. Teach your child to recycle too, and it will simply be part of their life.

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Elizabeth Weiss

Elizabeth Weiss is a freelance writer who specializes in web content development and lifestyle articles. Her work has appeared in a variety of mainstream and niche publications, including Forbes, Playboy, Marie Claire and Tales of the Cocktail. She has an MFA in creative writing and resides in horse farm country in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where she can usually be found eating chocolate and seeking peaceful moments to read a book. Learn more about Elizabeth at Weiss Words.

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