Want Kids to Recycle? Practice Monkey See, Monkey Do

Have you ever noticed how small kids will watch and listen to you and then do or say the very same thing? Usually, it’s pretty funny. Other times, such as when they blurt out a stream of “bad” words in front of grandma or the neighbor, you wish they weren’t quite so good at mimicking you. Yeah, it happens.

Turns out that kids mimicking adult behavior is universal. Regardless of where a child is in the world, they model the behavior of parents and other adults. It’s how they learn how to do things, what’s socially acceptable and what’s not, and become inculcated in their culture.

In a landmark study conducted in 2018 at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, researchers found that kids will even mimic silly and useless actions like running a feather across the top of a box before lifting the lid off if they see an adult do it first. This was true of kids in Australia and kids in Kalahari Bushmen tribes in Africa. Children count on adults to learn how and what to do – Monkey see, monkey do!

Here’s a suggestion: let’s harness this natural proclivity to mimic by applying it to recycling.

We all know the United States can do a much better job of recycling. Despite all of the messaging on why we need to recycle PET bottles, aluminum and steel cans, cardboard, and other packaging, many people still don’t use their curbside recycling bins as much as they could. Chances are, their parents didn’t recycle so they didn’t learn the importance. It’s time to change that.

If you are a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, or teacher, make it a point to demonstrate how and what to recycle in front of the children in your life. Some quick examples…

  • After drinking a bottle of water or soda, replace the cap and place the empty bottle in a bag or container for recycling. Encourage the child recycle with you. Say the word recycle.
  • When preparing meals, set aside recyclable packages and clearly say they’re for recycling.
  • When you’ve used up all the shampoo during a little one’s bath, set the empty bottle aside and clearly say you’re saving it to recycle.
  • If you’re on a road trip and don’t have a recycling bin handy, save your empty bottles until you get home. Explain to your child why you are saving them for recycling.
  • Involve kids in community clean ups so they can see other adults and kids picking up bottles and other trash for recycling. On April 24, Evergreen is hosting a Beach Clean-up at Wendy Park in Cleveland, Ohio, in partnership with the Great Lakes Alliance Adopt a Beach Program. We are encouraging our employees to bring their families to make recycling and clean up fun!
  • Lastly, include kids in placing used PET bottles and other packages in your curbside recycling bin.

All of this sounds simplistic, but given human nature and how children learn behavior by watching and listening to you, we’re here to tell you it works! And if we’re ever going to get our recycling rates up – particularly of PET plastic bottles as Evergreen is ready to recycle them now – we need you to play a little monkey see, monkey do so kids learn and practice the positive behavior of recycling for the rest of their lives.

To learn more about Evergreen and how we turn billions of post-consumer plastic bottles into recycled PET resins used by major brands in new bottles and containers, visit our website. If you’d like to join our beach clean-up at Wendy Park in Cleveland on April 24, email us here. We’d love for you and your family to join us.

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