Parenting: Rewarding Recycling

Liam is a big fan of recycling. He also has a pretty good idea of what kinds of items are returnable vs recyclable in the blue bin. At home, we have 2 bins: 1 where we collect everything that has a deposit attached to it, and is thus returnable, and the standard blue bin for everything else.

About once every 6-8 weeks, when we’ve got enough returnables, Liam and I load up the car with shopping bags full of tetra-paks, booze-bottles, pop bottles & cans, and head down to our nearest return-it depot to return all our stuff. On the way there, we get to hang out, talk about whatever (this is always a dad-and-Liam trip). Once there, Liam helps me separate all the returnables as directed by the staff there. Now that he can do math, we’ve added an extra step: We add up how much money we’re going to get before the staff does the math for us. It’s amazing how good Liam is at adding things by $0.05 & $0.10 these days, and keeping the numbers in his head these days – and useful shorthand knowledge that there are 4 quarters in a dollar, 20 nickels, etc – so he’ll now do things like count 1-20 in nickels, and know that equals a dollar.

The best part then comes when the staff gives us the money: We go shopping. Generally we’ve earned $5-10. Which is the perfect amount of money to then go to the toy store and buy a small toy. Liam puts the money in his pocket and as we drive over to the toy store we talk about what sort of a toy he wants to buy, why, and best of all, what we’re going to do with it when we get home.

At the store, Liam carefully goes around  choosing a toy that costs less (pre-tax) than what he got from the recycling. At the cash, Liam pays – he figures out which bills & coins to give the cashier (if tax brings the total over, I always cover that). His clear pride at being able to spend his own money, that he earned and counted is awesome. The surprise and genuinely happy response from the cashiers watching my kid do all this himself is pretty great too. Only once have I ever had a curmudgeonly cashier ask if I could “hurry this up”.

So are our trip net-green? Probably not. All the gas used, and packaging on the toy aren’t so great. But I now have a 6-year-old who can already separate returnables from recyclables, is jazzed about recycling, can do all sorts of useful coin-and-bill math and at the least the beginnings of an understanding of the relative worth of things, not to mention a great couple of hours where we get to hang out, just him and I. It’s all win.