Trash Talk

Empty plastic bottle use as a container for growing plant

With all the recent reports coming out about climate change, and having just come out of the warmest winter in Florida’s history, I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping to make a difference in the state of our planet.

The average person generates over 4 pounds of trash every day and about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year, and Americans make more than 200 million tons of garbage per year, according to Even sadder: Although 75 percent of American waste is recyclable, we only actually recycle about 30 percent of it. Not only can recycling cut down on waste, but it can also create energy to help power our homes.

We want our children and our children’s children to have long, happy lives on this planet, so it is time to put the effort in to take care of it. Studies have shown that the habits that you teach your children earlier in life can lead to their habits as adults, which is why it is so vital that we teach kids to take care of the earth early. There are a quite a few simple and fun ways your family can help at home that will get the kids motivated and excited to help the earth.

  1. Teaching Kids About Different Garbage Bins

In our home, we have two separate garbage cans; one black and one white for easier distinction, although you can get recycle logo stickers for as little as $3 online, or you can print or draw your own for even cheaper. We use one can we use for our trash items and the other is for general recyclables. When throwing anything away, our children have to ask themselves, “Can this be recycled?” before choosing which trash can it belongs in.

One great way to teach kids which can to use is to make it a game. For example, you can decorate the top of the recycling can with a robot so the kids can feed the robot aluminum, paper and other recyclables. Teach the kids to feed the robot and if they help make the robot recycling can full, they get a special prize.

Most counties’ Solid Waste programs will pick up your recycling for you at the curb and will accept basic items: plastic, glass, newspapers and cans. A full list of Hillsborough County’s recyclable items can be found at

If you don’t live in a Curbside Collection neighborhood, there are still ways to ensure your items make it to a recycle facility. You can bring your recyclables to the county recycle center to drop them off. A list of locations are on each county’s websites.

If you don’t have time for that, there are other options. The Green Can places recycle bins in residential neighborhoods that do not have pre-existing pick-ups. They also collect used clothes and shoes to be recycled, and proceeds go to a charity that you select.

  1. Ditch the Plastic Bags

Are plastic bags killing the environment? There’s been much debate on the subject. Most people reuse plastic shopping bags; in my own home they double as cat litter bags and bathroom trash can liners. Even after I reuse some, I’m left over with bags stuffed full of more bags. But did you know you can bring them back? Most supermarkets like Publix and Wal-Mart have recycle bins set up either outside of the store or just inside the entryway to return bags. They don’t only accept plastic bags, many also accept plastic sleeves from newspapers and dry cleaning. Plastic bags can be reused not only for their original purpose, but companies such as Trex also recycle them into building materials.

To get the kids to understand and have fun with recycling those pesky plastic bags, make it a scavenger hunt. Have the kids fan out and find as many plastic bags as they can, and whoever can find the most before your trip to the grocery store wins. Whether the prize is bragging rights or getting to choose a new reusable tote at the store, kids will love the competition and it will help them understand the habit of going to the grocery story with their own bags.

  1. Recycle Pill Bottles

Your child had an ear infection, you had a bottle of aspirin, your spouse had a toothache, and suddenly before you know it there are empty pill bottles peppering your medicine cabinet. Whether it’s over the counter or prescription, they can stack up fast. Before you toss them in the trash, remember, these are recyclable too! Some pharmacies accept their prescription pill bottles back so that they can be repurposed or reused.

Have you ever noticed that on the bottom of your container there is a little recycling symbol with a number inside? That number is the grade of plastic that the item is made of. While some recycle centers only accept 1 and 2 plastics, Hillsborough County will take anything between 1 and 7, which means you can put any plastic items in your recycling bin. Prescription pill bottles are a grade 5 and over the counter are 2, so be sure put these items in your recyclables trash can. Just remember to peel the prescription label off first.

To teach this to the kids, show them how to find the numbers on various plastic bottles. Let the kids look at the empty pill bottles and tell you which number it is, and see if they can tell you whether it should go in recycling, trash, or back to the store. The more you involve the kids, the better.

It may be tough at first to get everyone in your family to remember to recycle, but it can be done. Have the kids keep you in check by reminding you of which bin to use, and remind them if they forget. With these small steps, we can make a huge difference for our planet.