myNDNA: Early years and childcare activities

View our latest childcare activity guide below, written by early years experts.

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Coronavirus disclaimer - Legislation and policy guidance change regularly. It is the responsibility of the setting to review the latest COVID-19 guidance from the Government when undertaking these activities.

Recycle, reuse or rubbish? 

Recycling Week is (20th-26th September). Why not use this simple activity to raise awareness of what items can be recycled or reused?

Learning aims

  • Thinking about, and raising awareness of, which waste items can be recycled or reused
  • Learning new words linked with waste and recycling
  • Matching and grouping items based on their properties and material.  


  • A selection of recyclable waste items. For example , empty plastic bottles and lids, foil containers, magazines, newspaper, paper, cardboard scraps, boxes and packaging, drinks, and food cans
  • A collection of waste items that cannot easily be recycled. For example, bubble wrap, polystyrene, crisp packets, post-it notes, paper coffee cups with plastic linings, and glittered and foiled greetings cards.
  • 3 bins or empty cardboard boxes clearly labelled ‘Recycle, ‘Reuse’, ‘Rubbish’. 
Activity outline

  1. Begin by explaining the process of recycling and why it is important for the environment
  2. Show children that sometimes the label on an item will tell you whether it can be recycled or not. Have an item with the recycled logo on and an item which says it cannot be recycled
  3. Explain that many items do not say whether they can be recycled.  There are certain types of materials that we know can be recycled, such as waste paper, cardboard, metal tin cans, and wood. For items we are unsure of, we should try and find out whether these can be recycled or not
  4. Explain to children that certain items can also be reused before they are recycled. For example, an empty plastic water bottle could be used as a vase for flowers, or as a water squirter outdoors
  5. Show children the recycling bins and read out each word explaining what they mean
  6. Explain that the children are all going to work together to look at some items and decide whether or not they can be recycled, reused, or if they are rubbish
  7. Hold up an item up and engage children in discussion about whether or not this could be recycled, reused or whether it is rubbish
  8. If you are unsure of any items, you can look these up online. If you are unable to find out, and these cannot be reused, then explain why they will have to be rubbish. 
Extending the activity


  • Continue with the ‘recycle’ and ‘reuse’ bins in your setting, alongside your rubbish bins. Support children to use these. Introduce a compost bin if this is something you could do at your setting
  • Encourage children to come up with fun and creative ideas for the reusable items
  • Encourage children to look out for different ways to recycle and reuse items outside of the setting, such as donating old clothes to charity or disposing of batteries at the local supermarket
  • Contact your local council and invite them to share more information with children and families about recycling. 

Special considerations

Be sure to check items which will be reused to ensure they are safe and suitable. Consider any allergies. 


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