Green and giving kids

Molly Logan Anderson

Any parent knows the feeling: Kids have too much stuff. From the hottest snack items to toys and clothes, youngsters seem to be busting at the seams. Teaching kids to manage their stuff, either through recycling, reusing or donation is the key to kids becoming stewards of their own space as well as the world around them.

Learn online

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the average American generated a shocking 4.5 pounds of waste per day in 2008. Enesta Jones, press officer for the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health, says the EPA’s online Environmental Kids’ Club at provides education information to pre-kindergarteners through fifth-graders on a variety of topics. “Through games, activities and information, kids learn more about the environment and how they can personally make a difference,” Jones says.

Is it really trash?

The EPA notes that our first goal should be reducing the amount of waste we generate. Thinking about waste before making purchases gives parents and kids a head start, but other programs act as deterrents as well. “More than 7,000 communities have instituted ‘pay-as-you-throw’ programs where citizens pay for each can or bag of trash they set out for disposal rather than through the tax base or a flat fee,” according to the EPA’s Web site. “When these households reduce waste at the source, they dispose of less trash and pay lower trash bills.” Look into alternatives before hitting the can. Repurpose cardboard for art projects, use plastic containers to keep small items organized or start a compost pile for food scraps.

Recycling ins, outs

For items that fall outside the reuse category, refer to the search engine on Earth911 (, where you’ll find recycling locations by item and ZIP code. For a better understanding of how recycling works, don’t miss “The Cycle” videos on These kid-friendly, informative films clear the air about what happens once recycled products leave the curb.

Taking part

Controlling trash is a way to give kids a role in what happens to their world. Not only is being green cool today, it does loads of good. An EPA publication titled “Puzzled about Recycling’s Value? Look Beyond the Bin,” lists a plethora of benefits that kids can understand. From protecting jobs and reducing the need for landfills to preventing pollution and protecting the environment for future generations, recycling is worth the effort.

Helping kids give

Any parent that has attempted to purge a toy box for donations in the presence of a child knows that it can be a daunting task. Kids younger than 3 should not be part of the process, certified professional organizer Allison Carter says. “Before age 3, children may still believe that the object is an extension of them, so it is best to weed out items for them and not with them,” says Carter, owner of The Professional Organizer in Marietta, Ga. Carter believes that older kids do a great job sorting through items to give away, such as clothing, toys, games, books and even sentimental items. “I believe most children take cues from their parents,” she says. “(Kids) learn how to let go of objects if their parents show them how and that there aren’t any negative consequences.” Create family rules about when it’s time to reduce inventory. Carter suggests purging things that don’t fit, don’t work, are broken or missing pieces, are stained or are no longer appealing. “After you give away the no-brainers … set a space or number limit and pick favorites,” Carter advises. For example, allow kids to choose their 10 favorite T-shirts or fill one shelf with board games and give the rest away.

Be a role model

Year after year, parents collect a growing mountain of sentimental artifacts from kids’ lives. Knowing when to say when can save time and frustration in the long run. “The parent’s job is to save just enough so they create a picture of their child’s life,” Carter says. She suggests asking yourself whether your child will want to show an item to his or her own children; if so, keep it. For items that need not be saved, determine which can be repurposed, used by others or recycled before throwing away.

Where to donate

Carter loves thrift stores like Goodwill Industries Inc. and refers to them as “dating services for clutter.” At Goodwill donation centers, you’re saved the task of driving all over town to give items to various places. Other outfits, like AmVets, will pick up items, which is especially helpful for large charitable contributions. Involve kids in donating books to schools or libraries and toys to local preschools. Call shelters, hospitals, police and fire departments to determine what’s needed and accepted. Make giving a family affair.

What next?

For inquisitive kids that want to know what happens after their items are donated, Goodwill Industries of Dallas has published their step-by-step process. All donated items are put to use, whether on store shelves or through recycling efforts. In addition, Goodwill donation centers create jobs, often for individuals with disabilities, and 100 percent of employee salaries are generated from revenue obtained from donated goods. Kids can understand and feel good about this trickle-down effect and, hopefully, those good vibes will pave the way to future giving.