41 Ways Kids Can Help Save the Planet in 5 Minutes or Less
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How to help the planet
Small changes that even kids could do can make a difference in the health of the Earth. Here’s what you and your kids can do in less than five minutes to help save the planet.
Upgrade your lunch box
Plastic bags are boring—and they often end up where we don’t want them, like the ocean. Instead, upgrade to a reusable lunchbox to save time and trash, says Kyle Michaud, author of The Significance of Sustainability and founder of VegFest. Plus, how cool is a lunch packed in a container shaped like BB8 from Star Wars?
Swap plastic water bottles for bamboo or aluminum
Drinking a bottle of water is one of the best things you can do for your health (go you!) but to keep the environment as healthy as you are, ditch the disposable bottles and pick a reusable one, Michaud says. For more environment points, pick one made from a renewable resource like bamboo. And if you do have to opt for a plastic water bottle, here’s why you shouldn’t reuse it.
Collect your baby books for a book drive
You’re a champion reader. (You are reading this, after all!) So take all of those old books that are way too easy for you now and donate them to your school’s or library’s book drive, Michaud says. They’ll stay out of the landfill, and a younger kid will get to enjoy your Captain Underpants books.
Pick 5 gently used toys to give to charity
Chances are, your room is packed with fun toys, including a whole bunch you no longer play with. Pack up all your toys that are still in good playing condition and put them in a box to donate to a local shelter, Salvation Army, or other charity, Michaud says. Bonus: It will make cleaning your room way easier!
Use rechargeable batteries in your game controllers
Rechargeable batteries are just like regular batteries except once they’re out of juice, you can put them in a charger and bring them back to life. Not only do you save the environment by using fewer batteries (and never throwing your old batteries in the trash) but it will be faster and easier for you to find them and keep your games going, Michaud says.
Invent new things from old things
Your imagination is your most powerful tool, and you can put it to work coming up with new uses for old items, says Jaunine Fouché, D.Ed., director of environmental education at the Milton Hershey School. “You might use toilet paper rolls taped together with paper on the bottom to help keep your crayons sorted,” she says. “Or try taping together paper towel tubes and attaching the top of a pizza box on top to make a perfect nightstand.”
Don’t squash that spider
It’s totally understandable if your first instinct when you see a creepy-crawly bug is to step on it (or yell for your mom to come squish it), but bugs are a really important part of a healthy environment and we need them, Fouché says. Instead of killing them, trap them in a cup and take them outside, where they can do their work.
Become “The Unplugger”
Everyone needs a superhero identity, and yours can be The Unplugger, saving the world (and electricity) one appliance at a time. “Did you know that even if you’re not using things, like the toaster, that they can still use up electricity by staying plugged in?” says Michelle Pettit, a climate and sustainability specialist for Just Energy. “Make sure you unplug things when you’re not using them so that you do your part not to deplete energy from the earth.”
“The brand new clothes you see in the store can actually be really harmful to the environment because they often require a lot of water, electricity, and harsh dyes and chemicals to make,” Pettit says. Instead of always asking for new clothes, try asking older friends or siblings for their outgrown-but-still-cool clothes. Or ask your parents to take you shopping at a thrift shop.
Be your own fashion designer
Just because you outgrew or stained something, or it has a little hole, doesn’t mean you can’t still use it, Pettit says. Use paint, scissors, and thread to make a new style or turn it into something else entirely, she adds.
Use recyclable pencils that grow into flowers
These cool eco-friendly Sprout pencils double as a writing instrument and a fun science experiment. Write with them until they are too short to use. Then plant the stubs in pots and watch them grow into herbs, vegetables, or flowers.
Ditch the straws
Truth: Bendy straws do make drinking your milk way more fun. But those same plastic straws can take up to 200 years to decompose after you throw them away, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Help the environment out by only using reusable straws or, even better, just drinking out of a cup the old-fashioned way, says Heidi McBain, a licensed professional counselor. You’ll also want to ditch plastic after learning these other facts about plastic.
Encourage your school to ditch plastic straws and lids, too
Take your good deed one step further and get your school to banish plastic drinking straws and lids in the cafeteria. After all, Buckingham Palace banned plastic straws, and if the Queen of England can do it, so can you.
Turn off the light when you leave a room
Do we sound like your dad nagging you? Sorry, but there’s a seriously good reason he’s always telling you to turn off the light: It saves energy, reducing costs for your family and making less pollution in the world, says Julie Kandall, educational director at Columbus Pre-School. Plus, it’s the easiest, fastest thing to do on this list!
Turn off the water when you brush your teeth
First off: Good job brushing your teeth! That’s super important for your health. But while you’re brushing your pearly whites, don’t forget to turn off the faucet, says Mina Gull, ultra marathoner and spokesperson for Colgate’s #EveryDropCounts campaign. You can save close to 3,000 gallons of water a year with this one tiny change.
Leave toys out of the shower
Baths and showers are important to get the stank off after your soccer game and you should definitely be taking them, but do your best to keep them short to save water, Kandall says. This means just washing up in the shower and leaving playtime for afterwards.
Check faucets for leaks
Your ears and eyes are probably a lot sharper than your parents’ (and you can tell them we said so!), so put them to good use and check the faucets around your house. Make sure they’re all turned off and that none are leaking, as even a little bit of wasted water adds up over time, Kandall says.
Set the table with regular plates, not paper
Paper plates and plastic utensils are really convenient, but they take up a ton of space in landfills and can take up to 400 years to decompose. Instead, set your table with regular, reusable dinner plates and metal utensils, Kandall says. Add a few flowers and some napkins, and you can make your plain dinner table into a fancy restaurant.
Host a neighborhood clean-up competition
Picking up trash at your neighborhood park or on your street takes just a few minutes, but it can have a huge positive effect, says Leslie Fischer, eco-living expert and blogger at Sustainable Slumber. Plus, once your friends see you having fun and helping out, they’ll want to join in, too. Make it a competition to see who can pick up the most garbage.
Plant a seed
A seed is one tiny thing, but it can grow into a huge plant that provides food, shade and beauty. “Plan what you’d like to plant, start the seed indoors, then plant it in a sunny spot outside when it’s warm enough,” Fischer says. “And don’t forget to water it!”
Pull a weed
Helping out in the garden is something everyone can do, no matter your age or size, Fischer says. Have a grown-up show you which plants are weeds and then enjoy ripping them out of the ground. Joy is just one of the surprising benefits of gardening.
Start a compost bucket
Who doesn’t love a big pile of moldy, slimy goo? Well, your mom may not love it—if it’s in your lunch box. But make a compost pile out of old food scraps and everyone wins, including the environment, Fischer says. Don’t make the mistake of throwing away parts of fresh food, along with these other produce mistakes.
Take a trash walk
Keep a little trash bag by the door and grab it when you head out for a walk. This way, if you see a piece of litter you can pick it up and put it in your bag, easy peasy.
Set up a recycling bin
If your house doesn’t already have one, set up a little recycling center to collect glass, paper, and plastic, Kandall says. It can be as simple as finding three empty boxes and putting a sign on each one. When they’re full, your parents can take them to a recycling center, or your trash company may recycle them for you.
Double up your artwork
Paper has two sides for a reason, and that’s so you can have twice as much space to draw or write without using additional paper, Kandall says. Make sure you use up both sides before reaching for a new sheet and reuse scraps of paper in other art projects.
Carpool to school
Love hanging out with your friends? Wish you had a good excuse to do it without having to do your chores first? Talk to your parents about arranging neighborhood carpools to school, soccer practice, and other activities, says Karen Whittier, early childhood educator, engineer, and founder of Play and Grow. You’ll get more time with your friends and your parents will spend less time in the car. And, oh yeah, you’ll be helping the environment.
Join (or start!) a toy collective
Many communities have groups where kids can swap toys they are tired of for toys from other kids of the same age. You keep the box of toys for a month, play with them, and then trade them in for a different box the next month. There are also companies that specialize in toy “rentals,” Whittier says, where they send you a box of toys to play with and then you send it back when you’re tired of it. Lots of fun toys and nothing gets wasted.
Make art from trash
Bottle caps, gift bags, old stickers, popsicle sticks, and other items may look like garbage to grownups, but in the hands of the right kid, they can be transformed into cool mobiles, wind catchers, or other art projects, Whittier says.
Create fun energy-saving reminders
You may be great at turning off lights and faucets, shutting doors, and unplugging appliances, but that doesn’t mean everyone in your house is (especially, ahem, the grown-ups). Make fun reminders with silly drawings or photos and then hang them on doorknobs or tape them to the wall, says Judy Jenkins, biologist and education specialist at the Sea Life Orlando Aquarium. You can even use special glass markers to write on mirrors and windows, she adds.
Pack it out
Barbecues! Frisbee! Water fights! Spending time at the park or beach with your family can be a blast. Just make sure you’re packing out everything you brought with. That means taking food wrappers and other trash with you when you leave, Jenkins says. Keep a supply of old grocery bags in the car so you’ll always have one handy to pick up garbage. This is one of the 50 habits healthy families have.
Recycle your crayons
You knew you could recycle your plastic water bottles and old homework, but did you know that your crayons are valuable recyclables too? The Crayon Initiative takes used crayons, melts them down, and makes them into new crayons which are then donated to children’s hospitals. Take it a step further and get your whole school in on it with a crayon drive. Find out what you need to do to get started.
Check out library books about the environment
One of the best things you can do for the environment right now is to get informed. “Read about nature, the earth, the environment to get ideas about ways to protect it, love it, and all the animals and plants in it,” says Luz Claudio, MD, professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. By being informed and interested, maybe you will be the next inventor of a new way to save the planet.
Make gifts instead of buying them
Have a friend or family member with a birthday soon? Save money and help the environment by making them a homemade gift instead of buying one from the store, Claudio says. She has a few ideas to get you started: Make a terrarium out of a plastic bottle, turn a tomato sauce jar into a cool solar lantern, use a milk carton to make a beautiful birdhouse, or make a toy monster for a younger sibling out of an egg carton.
Bring it up at dinnertime
Your parents love to talk to you at the dinner table, so use this time to start a conversation about things your family values in the environment and ways you guys can work together to make it better, says Shel Horowitz, a green business expert, author, and founder of Going Beyond Sustainability.
Go “fishing” for trash
Many people will see a piece of garbage in a park and pick it up, but not as many people pay attention to what’s floating in rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, and the ocean. Some people even throw their garbage into the water thinking it will magically disappear. Take a few minutes the next time you visit your favorite beach or river bank to pick up garbage in and around the water, says Lara Croft, senior veterinarian at SeaWorld Orlando. “Debris in our waterways can be mistaken as food and poison certain marine life and can cause other animals to get tangled up,” she says.
Save a baby animal
Want to be the next Bindi Irwin or Dora The Explorer? You too can save animals that you see trapped or injured, Croft says. First, don’t approach them or try to pick them up. “The best way to save injured or stranded marine life is to quickly notify professional responders by calling your local stranding network,” she says. You can also download the NOAA Fisheries Dolphin and Whale 911 app or use their site to report a stranded marine mammal.
Bring back the honeybees
Bees may look like scary stinging monsters, but they’re actually pretty gentle critters and, more importantly, plants desperately need them to pollinate them so they can grow, says Carole Lieberman, MD, psychiatrist and author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How To Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror. Unfortunately, bees are dying by the thousands. You can help bring back the bees by planting some bee-friendly plants in your garden—like these pretty flowers bees love.
Walk or ride your bike more
Some days it can feel like you live in your car, but the more you use your car, the more pollution gets put into the environment. One easy and fun solution is to ask your parents if you can walk or ride your bike to nearby activities, playdates, or school, Lieberman says. Better yet, make it a family walk or ride.
Use recycled paper for homework
The next time you’re shopping for school supplies, look for notebooks, folders, and paper made from recycled materials. It’s a simple way to save the trees, Lieberman says.
Forage for food
Finding food in the environment around you is free, fun, and easier than you think, says Alan Muskat, ecologist and founder of No Taste Like Home. “Foraging reminds us that we depend on the Earth,” he says. “Food does not come from a farm. That’s like saying babies come from a school. Food comes from the earth.” Want to try it? Here’s everything you need to get started foraging for local foods. Be sure to talk to your parents first so they can help you do it safely.
Geocaching is like a modern-day treasure hunt that uses GPS technology in addition to maps to help you look for hidden treasure in your area. The Envirokidz ecokeepers program takes geocaching to the next level by providing a workbook and other items to help you learn about the environment while playing the game.
- Kyle Michaud, author of The Significance of Sustainability and founder of VegFest
- Jaunine Fouché, D.Ed., director of environmental education at the Milton Hershey School
- Michelle Pettit, a climate and sustainability specialist for Just Energy
- Heidi McBain, a licensed professional counselor
- WWF: "The lifecycle of plastics"
- Julie Kandall, educational director at Columbus Pre-School
- Mina Gull, ultra marathoner and spokesperson for Colgate's #EveryDropCounts campaign
- Leslie Fischer, eco-living expert and blogger at Sustainable Slumber
- Karen Whittier, early childhood educator, engineer, and founder of Play and Grow
- Judy Jenkins, biologist and education specialist at the Sea Life Orlando Aquarium
- Luz Claudio, MD, professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine
- Shel Horowitz, a green business expert, author, and founder of Going Beyond Sustainability
- Lara Croft, senior veterinarian at SeaWorld Orlando
- Carole Lieberman, MD, psychiatrist and author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How To Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror
- Alan Muskat, ecologist and founder of No Taste Like Home