The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA)

IEMA Futures: Building recycling habits


Laura Archer and Hannah Lesbirel discuss why recycling is so important, and how we can make it a habit among young people.

Recycling is not an option – recycling is crucial for a sustainable future. If we follow the Waste Management Hierarchy, set out in the Waste Framework Directive (2009), we can achieve a more sustainable economy. 

Recycling is often seen as a chore and inconvenience, but it shouldn’t be. Recycling is a necessary activity, because it:

  1. Saves energy
  2. Reduces the amount of waste going to landfill
  3. Preserves our resources and protects wildlife
  4. Boosts the economy
  5. Helps our climate problem

Do you remember being taught how to brush your teeth? Use a knife and fork? Tie your shoe-laces? Recycling needs to be integrated into these ‘life lessons’ and become a normal part of our lifestyles. This requires education from a young age. 

It is important that individuals are taught about their impact on the environment from a young age, as our impact on the environment grows. The youth of today will inherit the world we create for them; if they can be educated to act sustainably, they can make the necessary changes for a more sustainable society. 

Education is a wonderful thing. We need to use the education system to teach future generations about important current worldwide issues, such as recycling. Building up partnerships with schools, for example, can enable bodies such as IEMA to run activities that help students to become aware, interested and engaged in recycling. 

Primary schools could set up dedicated recycling points and involve students by introducing a ‘star of the month’ for the student who recycles the most. 

In secondary schools, it is crucial to keep this theme running. A recycling rota could be created, for example, with the different classes taking it in turns to be responsible for the school recycling point, keeping it tidy and ensuring other students are recycling correctly.

Activities can help to keep students engaged, which is key in helping them to understand why recycling is important – for now and for future generations. The earlier this is highlighted, the longer it can last in later life.

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