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Getting a teenager to recycle

Undoubtedly, it is difficult to get a teenager to do anything, recycling included.  Hear Shannon's plight:

I have a question regarding teens and recycling. My 17yo stepdaughter throws everything away.  when I catch her, I make her separate her garbage from recyclables.  Sometimes I try to go through it, but she's thrown something gross in there and it's "contaminated."  When I try talking to her about it, she blows me off and says not everyone recycles, what does it matter?  I show her how I take up to two paper sacks a week of recyclable plastic to the recycling center that won't go in our bin (hard plastic packaging for toys and electronics, the plastic measuring scoops in formula, film canisters, etc).  I'm lucky in that the recycling center is a mile from my house and on the way to practically everywhere. 

She hasn't always lived with us, so she wasn't "brought up" that way.  She takes everything for granted. Throwing away a notebook that still has good, usable paper in it because she's finished with it, eating half her dinner and throwing it away because she doesn't like leftovers (not even giving it to the dog), letting her grandmother buy her something and throws it away when she determines she really doesn't like it.

Here in Portland, many households are trying to do their part - recycle whatever we can.  How do you get your kids involved in recycling?  Are they aware of the effort?  Are they a part of the process?  How do you get children (teenagers, in this case) to understand the concept of wastefulness, to curb needless dumping, to encourage reducing, reusing, and recycling?


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I don't know ... my kid isn't old enough for this yet. But from my own experience being a teenager, I would say don't harangue her. It won't make her want to recycle! Perhaps make it easier in the set up (recycle bins, give away bins readily available?), and just set an example. She may not pick up on it now, or ever ... but you never know. Five years from now might be a completely different thing.

I'd take the hard line on the recycling - In our house it is a rule, not a choice. If she refuses make her pay the garbage bill! She might respond more to the economic argument. Explain that the more you recycle the less garbage you have, the less you pay. You also can point out that some localities are now fining people for throwing out recyclables! Portland may move to that system one day to. As for the general wastefulness, that is a harder values issue you just have to keep leading by example.

Maybe she should be the one going through the "contaminated" garbage. Of course she'll hate doing it, and by extension, probably hate you for making her do it, but really, I remember being 17 and I pretty much hated everything having to do with my parents anyway.

My thought is, though, once she realizes you really mean it about the recyclables, maybe she'll start sorting her garbage without you "nagging" her about it.

I'm a high school teacher and recycling is a big deal in my classroom (I teach all the env. science and ecology classes)although the only things they take at the school are paper and bottles. Most of the students know I look in the trash and move the plastic bottles and paper and they are pretty good about doing it. Nice reminders such as "Please put _________ in the recycling" rather than saying trash really starts to sink in after a while. Remember it's a habit that has to be learned and if she's not used to it, it won't come naturally. If you recognize that she's trying, it will probably get better (but it won't be perfect).

One thing you might consider is watching "The Story of Stuff" together online. It's a slick little video that appealled greatly to my high school class. She might not understand the materials economy as much as you think she does. (I'm always amazed at how many of my students can't place the Cascades on a map, for instance) At 17, it's the developmentally appropriate time for her to be able to REALLY begin to think beyond herself (amazingly, the brain really isn't able to do this effectively until around 16 - they know what they are supposed to do, but they don't always know why...it really takes time.) She may not get it now, but your example and reminding (not nagging...this could make her rebel and not do it just for spite) will help her develop good habitats in the long run.

I think the video is a good idea and maybe to really get the point across have her watch Al Gore's movie.

Not too long ago my stepsons would argue endlessly with me about how fast food wasn't all that bad. Then we all watched "Super Size Me!" and the conversations pretty much stopped. Fast forward a few years and my younger stepson now talks about how nasty fast food is.

Popular media can have a big influence on teens, and its nice because none of the "preaching" is coming from you - even though the message is the same.

reverse psychology!

I agree with comments about showing her videos and movies so that you aren't the one preaching. She's testing her authority and rebelling against rules. Regarding throwing away the extra food on her plate, take her to a local homeless shelter to help serve food to the homeless (if you go to church, ask your pastor if you could sign her up or the family to help with food boxes).

Where is the recycling center? I'd love to recycle more stuff that can't go in the bins! I agree about the Story of Stuff, it totally got me thinking and I already recycle what I can. I also agree about not haranguing her....you know how at that age when someone tells you to do something you do the opposite....perhaps there is another "eco" area in your household that she can be involved with besides recycling to get her on the green side of things. Perhaps she's in charge of electricity usage (turning lights off that aren't being used, etc....).

I don't have a 17 y.o. so these could be really dumb ideas.... :-)

Wow! Im totally off base but as an adult who didnt recycle till the last few years. I dont think harrassing,bribing and mandatory is the way to go at this late stage (17). Give tons of information share opinions/values etc but like the sex talk ultimately when they are going to "do it" they will. ok just another opinion just read it and disagree...

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