The general idea is to help your kids operate their own business by collecting plastic bottles and aluminum cans that the Ratto Group will buy from them for cold hard cash. We've asked a friend to write up some directions for us who has children that have been doing this for years. He feels like it's been a fantastic learning experience for his kids AND they've earned good money as well.
1) Is it right for them?
Make sure your children are truly interested in having their own business. Warn them that it's a lot of work and they'll have to work at it every week. The good news is that they can make some good money.
2) What do you want them to collect?
Decide what you want to collect for buy back. Personally my decision was to just have my kids collect plastic drinking bottles (like water bottles) and aluminum cans. Both are marked "CA CRV". Those are the items that pay the best, are generally fairly clean and are unlikely to break or cut someone. Any cans/bottles that are CA CRV should be printed with identification, but if you are unsure, come by to the Ratto buy back station so we can show you.
3) Mass collection
Look for public places that you visit often that don't currently separate recyclables. We've found that many times if they are not already sorting these items out, they will allow your kids to keep them for themselves. Talk to your kids about what they should say, then set up a meeting with the appropriate manager and let your kids do the talking. You'll need to provide them with a collection container. We've had luck with this at our gym, church and even our kid's school. There are two things to watch out for when you do this though:
a - If these locations are nice enough to allow you to collect, then make sure you come by and pick up often. If they have over-flowing collection containers they won't want you to continue.
b - Unfortunately, in some public locations you may have problems with people stealing your collections. I haven't found an easy solution for this.
4) Friends and relatives
Have your kids talk to your friends and relatives and ask them save recyclables. If you don't see them regularly, make a point of going over and collecting what they've saved for your kids.
Print up some flyers and have your kids go door-to-door in your neighborhood asking folks to save recyclables for them. Obviously you should go with them on this adventure. My kids knock on doors when they are doing this and leave a flyer explaining what they are doing if there is no answer. Set up a regular time for your kids to go out collecting in the neighborhood and ask your neighbors to put the recyclables out on their front porch. We do this on Saturdays between 11am and 4pm every week but you can pick any time as long as it's consistent. After a little while we had all the neighbors trained to put out their recyclables so door knocking was rarely necessary. You can start out with just part of your street, then when/if they want to expand the business, they can knock on a few extra doors. We've found that somewhere around 20% of our neighbors consistently have recyclables for our kids.
6) Weekly pickup and sorting
After their weekly neighborhood walk picking up what neighbors saved for them (supervising them as necessary), I have my kids sort out the plastic bottles from the aluminum cans. Smashing them is not necessary and neither is the removal of caps. Sorting however is needed and it also gives your kids a chance to throw away or recycle anything that was collected that is not CA CRV. Important note: It can be difficult to train well meaning neighbors not to save non-CA CRV. Use as much tact as possible to let them know that you really appreciate their efforts, but that you only want the CA CRV items. Generally speaking it takes my kids about an hour a week to walk our neighborhood collecting, then sort everything that has been collected in the last week. Avoid the temptation to skip sorting. It's easy if you do it weekly but it can turn into a very big job if you save it up. If you are going to be out of town during your normal pick-up time, have your kids put out a flyer ahead of time asking neighbors to hold their recyclables for that week and that they will do a double pickup the following week.
7) Cashing in
We save the sorted cans/bottles in yard waste bags. When we have about 10 large bags it's usually time to make a run to the Ratto Buy back center. In our case, I don't have a pickup truck so we call up my Dad who gets in extra "Grandpa time" by driving my kids over with their haul in his truck. Be sure to cover your load! Those bags are not very heavy and we've lost a big bag on the road a couple times. I would encourage you to have your kids load the truck at your house and unload it at the recycling center. It's their business! I prefer to have payment checks cut directly in my children's name so I bring some ID for them. My kids have an old passport that the recycling center accepts.
8) Go to your Ratto buy back center in Santa Rosa or Novato
I do genuinely recommend taking your recyclables to a Ratto buy back center. We've tried other locations and none were as good. Some of the others were not kid-friendly (they didn't even let my kids get out of the truck), and some required that all caps be removed from plastic bottles. Ratto buy back locations can be found here.
Some example forms for your childrens saftey: