Explaining where garbage goes

I have been wanting to share a story with you that happened last Thursday and just didn’t have a chance.  My grandson was visiting and since his birthday this past month his “why” questions have developed a much deeper meaning than previously.

When the children are here they love to take things to the dumpsters.  We pick up garbage on our walks regularly.  The kids think it’s horrible and remark how some one was bad to throw garbage on the ground.  Gotta love kids.

Before tossing anything away they ask me which dumpster, the “tiny” one which is for garbage  or the “big” one which is for recyclables.  It’s rare when the answer is the tiny one.

Well, Thursday, he wanted to know why I call the big one recyclables, I explained that things put in this dumpster were made into new things that people could use or buy.  (He got a kick out of that and now wants everything to be recycled).

Then he asked the hard question.  “What do they do with the tiny dumpster?”
I wasn’t sure how to answer this so I told him the truth.  I told him the things couldn’t be made into new things and are considered trash.  He wanted to know where they go.  I told him it’s a place called a landfill, He wanted me to explain what a landfill is I said it’s a big hole in the ground that they put all the garbage in.

Not good enough.  He wanted to know if I could show him a picture of what the hole looked like.  I took a deep breath and said yes.  I went to Google and typed in “landfill images”.

He was very upset.  The questions were hard to hear:  “But grandma, that’s bad.”  “Why do they do that.”  “But where’s the grass?”  and so on.  He wasn’t ready to leave and wanted me to scroll down so he could see how the garbage ended up getting in the “hole”.  It was so sad.  Then he spotted a picture that made him sad and angry.  There was a baby doll lying in the open.  One arm was missing, but otherwise it looked like it could have been a good toy yet.  He wanted to know why someone didn’t fix it.  He wanted to know why people throw toys in the ground.

Maybe I shouldn’t have let him see the pictures after all.  He’s been upset for days now.  He gets mad when he sees someone throwing something in the garbage at home, and even more upset when he sees garbage out on a walk.  His first question is “If we put it in the tiny dumpster, will people make something new from this?”

As a result I think we need to add another “R” to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and that is  Repair.

How do you handle answering environmental questions from your pre-schoolers?  Would you have shown them pictures of a landfill in the first place? And the one question that has been bugging me since has been “If a 4 year old can see the concept of a landfill as disgusting and wrong why don’t more adults think about their actions?’



  1. When I think about how much goes to the landfill I also always think of how it once was. Everything you “disposed” of went someplace on your own property.

    If you had to pile up everything you put in the garbage in a spot in your own backyard, what would the view be like from your window? You’d really be motivated to reduce, reuse, recycle and repair, just so your view would not be spoiled.

    Instead we send our garbage to a mystical. far away place. Out of sight = out of mind.

    I wouldn’t label myself an environmentalist, I don’t like labels. I’m just another person sharing this planet with the rest, and I want my corner to be just as lovely when I leave as when I came. I don’t get why some people just don’t care what they do to this planet, or how their share looks.

    Now your grandson will probably be motivated from quite young to do something positive here. You may have just spurred his entire life into motion.


    • What a great way to look at it, I never thought about thinking of what my back yard would look like, but that would sure help some people. I agree most just think of it as “going away” with no regard for where it goes.

      I too don’t like labels. Minimalist? In many ways, but it’s just what I like. Environmentalist? Sure, but it’s because I learned from the Native Americans when young to respect the earth. I don’t belong to any organizations, but I do want to leave things good for future generations.

      I hope my grandson sees this as a lesson for life, but I try usually to set an example and hope they learn from that. I worry that the children are already burdened with so much and should be able to be children for as long as possible.


  2. I want to thank you for this post – I truly enjoyed the read! I’ve always recycled at least a bit, but never composted… never really thought much about such things. Something happens to us (I think) after 40. Grandkids make us take a look at things through the eyes of a child again, only with our now adult brains, if you see what I mean. I find that I think very differently about things now than I did before the grandchildren (and 40!) came along. I recycle, compost, etc now. Our area only allows for cardboard, tin cans, #2 plastic, milk jugs and newspapers. Ugh!

    Anyway, before I lose my train of thought… what you said really hit me. It can be hard to explain things to children, even harder when they pose questions that should have easy answers, but don’t. I feel your frustration. During a recent visit with my oldest granddaughter (11 y.o) I found that they aren’t taught anything in school about the “real” 3 R’s!!! She knew it meant reduce, reuse, recycle, but until we had our discussion she hadn’t really thought about what reducing or reusing were all about. All that had been discussed was the importance of recycling. Recycling is great, don’t get me wrong… but if these kids aren’t being taught to buy less packaging, etc and reusing items, then what good is it? I feel it needs to be taught in schools… not all children have people in their lives to teach them these things.

    Ok, I’ve blathered on in a rant, thanks for reading this far! Great blog you have here, I see many of our interests are the same. I am just getting started with blogging and hope you don’t mind that I added you to my list of “blogs I follow”. I didn’t know if I should have asked you first or not, before I had your link on my page – it’s all new to me.

    Hope you’re having a great weekend!


    • I am so glad you are joining the blogging community. I am too am pretty new to blogging. I new nothing about blogging until November of this past year when I decided I wanted to learn how.

      You are right. While I cared a great deal about my children and the environment, I didn’t have the time to follow through on things the way I should when I was raising my own children. Today, yep after 40, I have watched my sisters at 38 and 40 undergo heart bypass and cancer treatments. I don’t want this to be me or my children/grandchildren. So I am taking the time to learn more and do more.

      Like you, I too am disappointed by the school system. Our children aren’t taught the things they will need to know. It’s not just about reducing waste, but also how to balance a check book or how to figure out financing charges on a mortgage or a credit card. I took care of those issues at home, but not everyone will or can.

      I don’t mind at all that you added me to your blog roll. I need to update mine as well. Hope to talk to you again soon.


  3. That’s amazing that your grandson is reacting so passionately about garbage. It will be interesting for you to see where it leads. I don’t think it was wrong to show him the landfill pictures. Especially when there are kids his age who must accompany their parents to the dump to dig for basic necessities.


    • I never thought about it that way. There are plenty of children who do work at landfills, and more who go with parents to drop off their trash when they don’t have access to garbage pick-up at their homes. Thanks for giving me another perspective.


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