11 Books About Recycling for Elementary Students

11 books about recycling for elementary students photo of multicolored recycling binsThis summer, keep your students’ minds sharp with a first-rate reading list. With these captivating books about recycling, students will return to class with far more awareness and interest in how they can contribute to a healthier, cleaner planet.

If you’re not looking for a summer reading list–don’t worry! All of the books listed here make fine additions to any library for when the topics of pollution and recycling come up. There is something for every reader ages 5-11, and books are sorted into the most popular categories.

We’ve also included ideas for Project Learning Tree activities and student investigations to connect the learning to your curriculum goals.


Why Recycling Is Important and How You Can Contribute

Nature Recycles: How About You?

By Michelle Lord

Nature Recycles is an ideal book to introduce reuse and recycling to young children. By showcasing the various methods animals use to repurpose materials in their natural habitats, this book provides examples of recycling that will inspire youngsters to creatively reuse their own objects.

For example, readers learn that poison dart frogs reuse bromeliad plant leaves and nut pods from the rainforest as cradles for their young. The full-page illustrations provide accurate depictions of the ingenious ways creatures use materials they find. Reading age is 5-8 years.


This Class Can Save the Planet

By Stacy Tornio

If you’re looking for a book that shows how recycling and other sustainable efforts can make a difference in your school or community, look no further than This Class Can Save the Planet. The book is in the form of a bold letter written from a fictional class to the rest of their school. It lists simple suggestions on how to save the planet in daily life at school. One creative suggestion involves using up old classroom supplies before buying new ones, since newer, shinier supplies are inevitably chosen over leftover ones.

This colorful and beautifully illustrated book acknowledges how overwhelming saving the planet can be while encouraging elementary students to stay hopeful, dream big, and act locally—and socially—with simple steps. It prompts readers to use critical thinking to design their own action plan and starts the conversation around how they can not only take action immediately but also create lifelong planet-saving habits.


Earth Ninja: A Children’s Book About Recycling, Reducing, and Reusing 

By Mary Nhin

When Lazy Ninja sees how carelessly thrown trash can endanger the environment, Earth Ninja convinces him to adopt the Three R’s in his life: Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling. From reusing washable lunch containers instead of throwing out single-use plastic bags to understanding how to recycle paper, plastic, and glass, Earth Ninja gives young readers many effective, yet simple ideas to get started. It’s a fun story about how just one person can impact the big issue of excess waste and reduce their carbon footprint.

Earth Ninja is easy to read with delightful illustrations and catches the attention of even the most distracted reader, and is the first in the Ninja Life Hacks series developed to help children learn valuable life skills.  This hero will inspire readers ages 3-11 to take action in their own lives and see trash a little differently. Don’t be surprised if Earth Ninja causes a student to take charge of changes in their own households.



Creative (and True!) Recycling Stories That Inspire 

Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art 

By J.H. Shapiro

Tyree Guyton, a Detroit urban environmental artist, transforms junk into amazing works of art and brings both healing to his community as well as awareness of its plight. Tyree cleans up vacant lots and creates the Heidelberg Project, an enormous interactive art environment which brings together found objects, nature, people, and turns a once-devastated landscape into a wonderland of total awe. 

Magic Trash demonstrates that anyone–no matter where they are or what circumstances they find themselves in–can contribute to helping their environment in profound, unique ways and even involve their community in the process. This story may even inspire your students to take up some recycled art projects on their own to show others how incredible creative reuse can be. Reading age is 5-8 years.


Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay 

By Susan Hood

Ada lives in a small slum town in Paraguay built on a landfill. She and her family love music, and she longs to play the violin. But there’s a problem. After her abuela (grandmother) signs her up for a violin class, there aren’t enough instruments for the kids to practice with! Ada’s instructor changes her life–and the whole town’s–when he ingeniously crafts instruments for each of them out of the landfill trash. The Recycled Orchestra plays music around the world, proving that when there’s hope and imagination, there are endlessly creative ways to recycle. 

Ada’s Violin is a poetic, true story that will open readers’ hearts and cause them to explore how trash buildup can be an ever-present issue facing certain communities. And when they see how real-life people can address multiple pressing needs with creativity and determination, it shows the sky’s the limit with how they can recycle. Reading age is 4-8 years.  



A Reference Book for the Planet

What a Waste: Trash, Recycling, and Protecting our Planet 

By Jess French

This handy, eye-catching reference book for children covers everything from pollution and litter to plastic recycling and renewable energy. From sea to soil, it includes eye-opening facts about the work needed (Did you know there’s a floating island of trash larger than the U.S. drifting across the Pacific Ocean?). It also does a great job of presenting the positive side–innovative efforts that are working to minimize waste, amazing green projects across the globe, and simple ways you can start reducing, reusing, and recycling. 

The pictures and diagrams in this book help make issues about waste and recycling simple to understand and bring young learners a greater awareness of the larger environmental picture. Inevitably, they will start brainstorming what role they play in it, too. Reading age is 6-9 years.



Follow the Trash: Landfills, Recycling Plants (and a Trash Barge!)

Fly Guy Presents: Garbage and Recycling

By Tedd Arnold

Follow trash on its journey in this enlightening nonfiction book that delves into what’s done with excess waste. Read all about garbage trucks, trash-sorting, the bacteria that decomposes trash, how landfills can become more environmentally friendly, and how recycling programs work. 

The Fly Guy series helps kids to visualize what’s done with trash with humorous illustrations and detailed photos that are sure to pique their interest and help them connect what they consume with its environmental impact. Reading age is 5-7 years.


Here Comes the Garbage Barge!

By Jonah Winter

This hilarious story is based on a premise that seems too crazy to be true (but it is!). It recounts what happened in a Long Island town when they sent off over 3,000 tons of their waste to North Carolina. Cap’m Duffy of the tugboat Break of Dawn gets turned away at every port he stops at because no one wants the trash, until he finds himself all the way in Belize.

This story is guaranteed to make kids and adults laugh out loud while they enjoy brilliant artwork featuring clay figures and real trash. It teaches a couple of important lessons: People need to be aware of where their trash goes, and every voice is important in helping communities improve environmental efforts. Reading age is 4-8 years.



The Life Cycles of Reusable Items

One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey

By Henry Cole

One Little Bag is a deep little storybook that follows a paper bag all the way from the tree in the forest that produced it to the hands of a boy in a grocery store. His family, spanning generations, reuses the bag again and again to hold precious objects and memories. When the boy’s grandpa nears the end of his life, the family finds a meaningful way for the bag to continue along in its own circle of life. 

The story is wordless, so it prompts students to draw their own conclusions about what’s going on with their critical thinking skills and mindfulness. With intricate black-ink drawings and a diverse cast of characters, the book prompts everyone moved by it to take a second look when they throw something away. Reading age is 4-8 years.


Bag in the Wind

By Ted Kooser

Another bag tale, but with a totally different feel. Written by a former national Poet Laureate and Pulitzer-Prize winner, readers will get swept away with the descriptive and poetic language that describes the wanderings of a wayward plastic bag. The bag drifts along throughout the countryside and ends up in the hands of several different people, highlighting the long journey plastic pollution can take and how everything is interconnected. 

The descriptive language in the story flows along like the bag itself, and the stunning paintings in it will enchant the young and old as they take a deep dive into the importance of recycling. Reading age is 5-8 years.  



Ocean Pollution Stories from Animal Perspectives

Crab Cake: Turning the Tide Together  

By Andrea Tsurumi

Crab and all of his friends have special talents. His just so happens to be baking cakes. When a bunch of trash is dumped in their vicinity, Crab takes the lead by feeding his friends and organizing a community-wide cleanup, where everyone’s talents have value. 

This story grips readers with its humor and whimsy as well as its powerful message: When community members cooperate with and support one another, this creates big positive change for the environment. Crab Cake segues perfectly into the discussion of pollution and recycling with its cartoony drawings and unique storyline. Reading age is 4-7 years.



Awareness to Action

After reading one or more of these books, children will have a better understanding of why we need to reduce, reuse and recycle. Consider engaging your students in taking action to reduce waste and recycle at school and at home!

Reuse and Recycle At Home…

Use this chart to analyze how you currently dispose of items and whether items being thrown away could be reused, recycled, or composted.

…and At School

What better time to build on children’s learnings and motivation than at the start of the next school year? Project Learning Tree’s Waste & Recycling Investigation is one of five hands-on, student-driven investigations at the heart of PLT’s GreenSchools program which inspires students to take responsibility for making their school greener and healthier.

In the Waste & Recycling Investigation, students investigate how much waste their school generates and where it goes, as well as recycling and composting efforts. The Investigation details specific things for students to measure and observe, along with student worksheets to fill out and guidance on how to combine data collected into a school-wide analysis. Using the data collected from the Investigation, students can develop action projects to reduce waste and natural resources use. Download the Investigation for free.

Lastly, here’s a list of PLT activities that complement the topic of recycling. These activities can be found in PLT’s Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide and/or PLT’s PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide.

  • A Few of My Favorite Things
  • Fallen Log
  • Global Goods
  • Make Your Own Paper
  • Peek at Packaging
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  • Renewable or Not?
  • Resource-Go-Round
  • Soil Builders
  • What’s in a Label?


Do you have any other suggestions for books about recycling? We’d love to hear them! Share them in the comments below!


Rebecca Reynandez

Rebecca Reynandez

Rebecca Reynandez is a Marketing and Communications Consultant and Principal of Spring Media Strategies, LLC. She has worked with nonprofits for the past 10 years and currently focuses on working with environmental organizations. She is based in Minneapolis, MN.

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