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Recycling Lesson for Kids: Facts & Definition

Instructor: Anna Reinking

Anni taught elementary school for eight years and is currently teaching college. She received her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction.

In this lesson, we will discuss recycling and why it's important. You'll learn about items that can be recycled and see examples, and you'll explore how each of these items is recycled.

What Is Recycling?

Recycling is the process of taking materials ready to be thrown away and converting (changing) them into reusable materials. This is important to reducing trash in the world's landfills, which pollute Earth's soil, water and air.

Recycling also helps preserve natural resources, materials that occur naturally and are used to make products--like when we use trees to make paper. When we don't recycle and reuse, we risk depleting (using up) our natural resources.

Recyclable Materials

If you were too look in your trash can, you would see that there are many different types of trash. Only certain materials can be recycled: Glass, paper, plastic and metal are the main recyclables, though some recycling centers will also take organics like banana peels and chicken bones. How do you know what can be recycled? Well, many products that can be recycled will be stamped with the following symbol:


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For each type of recyclable, there is a specific process to turn it into a usable material. Let's explore examples and processes of the four main recyclables.

Paper

Paper can be recycled and reused--that includes cardboard boxes, newspapers, computer paper, paper bags, junk mail (envelopes), magazines and even activity books that you have finished coloring and writing in.

After paper materials are collected, recycling factories need to make sure the paper is not dirty from other trash items. If the paper material is clean, it's then bundled and sent to a paper mill. At the mill, the paper is shredded, heated and mixed with chemicals in a way that creates a material to make new paper.

Plastic

Plastic items such as soda bottles are recyclable.
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You use plastic items everyday that can be recycled, such as plastic bags from the store, plastic containers that toys come in, rubber bands, plastic wrap and milk cartons. One of the biggest recyclables that often gets sent to the trash can is the water bottle. About 60 million water bottles are destroyed by burning (which sends pollution into the air) or sent to landfills where they take as much as 700 years to decompose.

After being sent to the recycling center, plastics are ground up into tiny flakes that are then washed in a bath to clean off all the specks of label and dirt that may be left on. It's then dried and melted into tiny pellets that are sold to companies to be formed into other products.

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