Here are some simple, every day practices you can implement to lead your early learning service on a journey to living more sustainably. 

At the dining table

  • Place a compost bowl on the lunch table for food scraps that can be recycled, and another one for recyclable soft packaging. Explain to the children what goes in and why. Install a compost bin or worm farm in the centre space. Sure you will get some bugs, but grab the magnifying glass and get exploring.
  • At the dining table, encourage children to pour their leftover water into a jug, and then water plants with it.
  • Have a yoghurt maker at the centre to provide yoghurt for children as an alternative to each child bringing their own. Families could pay a regular donation towards the costs involved in this

In the Bathroom

  • Provide children with a facecloth to dry their hands with as an alternative to using paper towels
  • Encourage children to use one paper towel when drying their hands. Show them how to shake the water off their hands before drying. 
  • Consider providing cloth nappies as an alternative to disposables. These could be washed and dried by your centre. Consider how many nappies you would be saving from the landfill.


  • Choose to use cleaning products that are low in chemicals, or eco-friendly.
  • Go to the library and choose a selection of books on earth, nature, climate change, and about the impact humans are making on the earth.
  • Show respect for the environment and the equipment. The longer things last, the less we will need to create and buy.
  • Consider using rubbish bins without liners to cut back on plastic rubbish bags. 
  • Turn off the lights, or at least half of them during the day when you can.
  • Add water to your paint container and shake it to get the last bit of paint out. Cut the container open and use a scraper to get the very last bit of paint out.


  • Plant a variety of plants with the children. Engage children in discussion about the benefits of plants and the responsibility of caring for plants too. 
  • Use a clothes line outside to hang your laundry on. Children love to help with “household” jobs. 
  • Host a day where you go out into your community and pick up discarded rubbish. You can purchase child sized gloves at garden centres.
  • Provide a rain collection barrel, and use this for water play. This is a great way for children to learn about and experience water as being a finite resource. Talk about the importance of conserving water and the impact this has on our environment.

In the staff room

  • Sort the rubbish by type. Put paper into one bin, plastics and other recyclable items into another.
  • If you are buying your lunch, bring your own container and ask for it to be put in this

Reflective questions

  • How can you engage families, thus spreading your ideas and passion to the wider community?
  • Do you recycle everything that can be recycled? If not, how can you make it easy to do so?
  • What barriers have you encountered and how can you overcome them?
  • Have you ever audited your centre and had a really hard look at how you could improve and become more sustainable?
  • How can leaders embed sustainable practices into the culture of a learning service?

How do you reduce your impact on our earth?

Kath Cooper works for  Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand. She is passionate about all things early childhood and issues of sustainability. Her recent research was on the visibility of gay early childhood teachers. She lives with her wife in Wellington and has four lovely children and three amazing grandchildren.
Kath Cooper

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