Recycling With Teens

Recycling with Teens…One RA Board Member’s Perspective 


By Denise Slattery, Board Member At Large

My kids were raised in a household that’s always paid attention to recycling and reuse and the ‘lifestyle’ that comes along with that.  While that’s nothing special, because a lot of kids in the communities we have lived have similarly been exposed to reduce, reuse and recycling behaviors, I probably, at times, pushed my passion to the limit for them. Cue the eye rolling, Cue groans. Cue sheer embarrassment.

These boys are now what I like to call “elder teens” (19 and 17 respectively) and you’d think by now they would be used to their mother’s manic sorting, scrap-saving, compost-heaping ways. No so.

I sat down with them (and their mutual friend) recently to ask about their general impressions regarding reuse and recycling behaviors amongst their peers. Granted, this is an audience of three….


Convenience makes it too easy to create more waste. 

They all agreed that everything is overpackaged but seem helpless in avoiding excess food packaging. These kids move fast and roam a lot, and eating away from home remains a very big social activity. The convenience of packaged foods (fresh & prepared or fast) is very appealing to a teen. Not unlike the rest of the population, it seems.


And what about food waste?

What food waste? Apparently, they eat everything. When talking about how U.S. residents on average waste up to 30% of their food purchases – they just looked at me blankly. When they pay for food out of their own pocket  – they eat it all. End of topic. But when I buy food for the household and don’t monitor the purchases or stay on top of leftovers, or rotate perishables – I’m the one that dropped the ball. This behavior needs a lot of work.



There’s light at the end of the tunnel for kids who eschew NEW and seek out used and vintage clothing. There can also be a weirdly skewed price tag associated with that. I like going to Goodwill and finding a great deal.  They talked about kids that scour the internet for used Yeazie’s, anything Supreme or vintage Adidas NIB  (that’s ‘new in box’ FYI) that can cost hundreds.  What????


They do the obvious.

When public recycling options are there – they comply. They toss plastic and glass in the right place and the rest in ‘landfill.’ The prompts help – they acknowledge that. But one revealing point was that recycling has a monetary reward. Through this chat, I discovered that my son was the most avid of recyclers on his dorm floor. (Shockingly, these are college kids who occasionally consume beer.) Was it our fantastic modeling throughout his childhood that drove him to collect bottles for recycling? I’m not sure, but apparently, a 10 cent redemption helps.

While these anecdotes may just be that, I think the point is to model behavior and communicate the value of WHY – so that kids of any age can make reduce, reuse and recycling a lifelong habit.