skip navigation
SAMHSA Brought to you by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse & Mental health Services Administration 
Building Blocks For a Healthy Future Home About Us Links Get E-mail Updates Awards
Family Educators Materials
Send this page to a friend   |   Print this page Animal Characters
spacer Family photosFamily photos

The New Three Rs: Recycle, Reuse, and Reduce

We all know about Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic to help our children learn in school. But, the new Three Rs are just as important—Recycle, Reuse, and Reduce—to help our children learn to take care of the environment.

Learning to care for the world around us is a good lesson for children. Model the Three Rs at home to help your children and the environment. Try the following ideas from the Kids’ Pages of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to help your kids recycle.


  • Don’t throw away anything that can be recycled. Check with your sanitation department or waste service to find out what you can recycle from your home and what you’ll have to take to other sites.
  • Think before you throw away these items:

    Acid batteries
    Aluminum cans
    Building materials
    Plastic bags
    Plastic bottles
    Electronic equipment
    Steel cans
    Glass bottles/jars
    Writing/copy paper
    Yard waste


  • Think reusable, not disposable, when you buy. When driving, take along washable cups or travel mugs. Many restaurants and convenience stores will fill or refill your own mug.
  • Remember, many plastic disposables—including cups, plates, utensils, and food storage bags—can be washed and reused.
  • Think repair, not replace, and donate items that you are replacing, such as appliances and old bicycles. Charitable outlets like Goodwill, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and many others are probably located right in your area.
  • Hold a yard sale or give away items you no longer use. Shop at yard sales or other outlets for "gently used" items to see if you can't find what you need before buying new.
  • Use cloth instead of paper—cloth bags for shopping, cloth napkins at your table, and cloth diapers for baby.


  • Buy in larger volumes to reduce the amount of waste from packaging. The "large economy size" can save you money and has only one package to dispose of, not two or three.
  • When you buy only one or two items at the store, say "no" to a paper or plastic bag to hold them.
  • Say "no" to junk mail. Call toll-free numbers in unwanted catalogs and ask to be removed from mailing lists. When possible, use the Internet for paying bills and reading the news, catalogs, and other information.
  • Start a garden to get food that isn't processed and packaged. Compost biodegradable waste to create rich soil for your garden and to cut down on trash.


  • NIEHS Kids’ Page. This site from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is filled with tips to help kids and families recycle, reuse, and reduce what they throw away each day.
  • Recycle City. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides lots of information for families. The Dumptown Game is designed for older children, but clicking on parts of the city is fun and provides tips for you and your child.
  • The Recycle Guys. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources offers things to learn about recycling and fun activities. Just click on "Why Recycle?" or "Kids" to find recycle crafts and great ideas.
  • Planet Protector (PDF). What can you do with a glass jelly jar after you've finished the jelly? The EPA has a special coloring book to show kids some uses for that jelly jar.

Please note—to view documents in PDF format, you must have Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader software. If you do not already have this software installed on your computer, please download it from Adobe's Web site.

spacer Site Map | Contact Us | FAQ | Ask SAMHSA | Privacy Policy | Web Site Policies | FOIA | | Plain Language spacer
Updated on 3/21/2012