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Recycling Challenge


Looking for a fun and educational activity to keep your kids busy for a few hours? Challenge them to an up-cycling competition!


By using materials from your recycling bin you can teach your kids about recycling and work their creativity muscles. This challenge can be adapted for all ages. Depending on your child’s interests, you can challenge them to make something you think they will be most excited to create. A few options are: a monster, an outfit (for a recycling fashion show), a functional object, an animal, a plant, a robot, a cartoon character, or anything else that sparks their interest!


The challenge is to create this thing using ONLY materials found in the recycling bin. For an added challenge you can restrict the use of (or give them a limited amount of) string, glue, and/or tape. This is a great time to remind youngsters (or ourselves) what types of materials are recyclable and how they should be recycled!


Did you know about 25% of materials that are recycled are too contaminated to actually be recycled and end up getting sent to landfills? If you put too many materials that are not recyclable in your recycling, they will just end up throwing your bag away because it’s too much work for them to sort and clean everyone’s recycling. The good news is if we all take the time to learn how to properly recycle we can help that number go down and our effort will make an impact.


Here are a few tips to make sure your efforts in recycling are successful.

In the teaching garden we like to use the phrase “if you can smash it, you can trash it” meaning if you have a plastic material that you can squish in your hand (like an empty chip bag or a plastic ziplock baggie) it is not recyclable. Generally if you can hit a plastic object against a table (like an empty plastic water bottle or hard plastic packaging) then you can recycle it.

Another good way to tell if a plastic object is recyclable is to look for the symbol with three arrows pointing in a triangle. This symbol is usually placed on the bottom of plastics with a number. This number is called a “resin identification code” and it is used to help recycling facilities sort their materials. Most areas accept numbers 1 and 2 for recycling but be sure to double check online to see what your area's recycling facility will accept.


Another common recycling mistake is not washing out materials before recycling them. It is very important to rinse out juice and milk cartons, clean out jars of peanut butter or salsa, and to clear aluminum cans of any food residue. This is important to cut down on odors and unwanted critters in recycling facilities. If your cardboard pizza box is covered in greasy oil… not recyclable! You can rip apart the box and recycle the clean dry cardboard, then you can compost or throw away the oily part of the box.

For more information on what to recycle (in NYC specifically) check out our resource page.


Now for the recycling challenge!


I tried this challenge by using some cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, bottle caps, soda cans, and a plastic coffee cup.

Here are my robots... Wall-E and Eve 2.0!

May they live happily in my recycling together <3.


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