To ensure that our planet remains healthy for future generations, it’s our responsibility to teach kids how to be eco-conscious. According to the EPA, Americans generate about 254 million tons of trash every year. That breaks down to 4.4 pounds of trash per person per day. And, we’re only recycling and composting about 1.5 pounds of that waste. Each bag of trash we roll out to the curb has to be collected, then taken to a landfill where it’s either buried or burned.
Unfortunately, neither burning trash nor burying it is good for the planet. According to National Geographic’s story Human Footprint: Where Does All the Stuff Go? burning trash releases gasses into the air, contributing to dangerous smog. Burying trash in landfills simply covers it up, and because the trash isn’t exposed to air and water, it fails to break down and instead releases toxins into our air, soil and groundwater.
Trash is just part of our environmental problem. Our carbon footprint also includes the cars we drive, the electricity we use, the water we waste and the food we buy. Almost every action we take somehow impacts our planet.
The good news is that we can lower our impact with a few easy changes, and we can teach our children to be mindful of their everyday behaviors to decrease their carbon footprint as well. Follow these 10 tips to raise eco-conscious kids:
Flip the switch
Don’t waste unnecessary electricity. Even very young kids can be mindful of their electricity usage and should turn off lights and other electronics when not in use.
Turn off the faucet
Another great way to help younger kids participate is to help them remember to turn off the faucet when they are soaping up their hands or brushing their teeth.
Don’t toss out food
According to the NRDC, “40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that the uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste where it accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions.” Don’t toss out food. Begin a family compost effort so that food can be used to help the Earth, not linger in landfills.
Start a family garden
The best way to help the Earth is to plant more green! Organic produce gardens, flower gardens or shrubs and trees all help the planet. Every bit of green adds more oxygen and eliminates carbon dioxide from the environment.
Leave the car at home
Driving creates pollution. Bike or walk with kids when you’re able. Encourage them to embrace more natural, eco-friendly forms of transportation.
Donate clothes, shoes and toys
It’s best to buy fewer clothes, and try shopping at consignment and vintage shops. If you do have items that you don’t need, don’t toss them in the trash. Instead, donate used items to a local charity or thrift store. Your older items may be someone else’s treasure.
Limit red meat
Red meat and carbon dioxide go hand-in-hand. According to the World Resources Institute, raising cattle for beef uses an incredible amount of resources like pasture and water, and “ruminants, of which cattle are the most common, accounted for nearly half of all agricultural production-related greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.”
Pick it up
Trash and litter pollutes our planet. Teach kids to not be a “litter bug” and encourage them to pick up trash when they see it lying around in parks, beaches or other areas.
Saving the environment means reusing items when possible. Buy books and other items at thrift stores and donate them back. Use reusable water bottles and lunch containers so your kids limit single-use plastic and learn that everyday actions can have a huge impact.
Even though recycling is not the answer to our waste problem, it is important to do if you have items that can be recycled. Glass, paper and aluminum can usually be easily and efficiently recycled. Check with your local waste-management service to find out which plastic products can be recycling in your county.
This is a guest post, with edits, from Uma Campbell.