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What a Waste

Standards: 4.8 Humans and the Environment, 4.9 Environmental Laws and Regulations

Duration: 2 to 3 hours

Setting: Inside

Vocabulary: waste, refuse, recycle, source

Summary: Students calculate the amount of waste the school is making a day and then brainstorm ways to reduce the amount.

Objectives: Students will gain a deeper understanding what we are throwing away, where it goes, and that throwing this away doesn’t really mean “away”–it still has to go somewhere! Students will work together to reduce waste.

Materials: inventory sheet (date, who collected, items, total weight), scale, rubber gloves, trash bags or other sorting containers, protective eyewear


Where does our trash go when we throw it “away?” Does anything really go away?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Resource Service, if even 5 percent of the things we threw away were reclaimed instead we as a country would save $50 million in landfill costs alone. Not to mention the amount of space we save buy not having that trash end up in the landfill.

The more we can reuse and recycle objects the less trash gets into our environment, the less we have to take up space in a landfill, and the less money we have to spend making and buying brand new products. One of the reasons why it is sometimes difficult to recycle is because we don’t really think about it or know just how much trash we are creating.

By having a trash “audit,” we will know how much we are throwing away every day, how much we are recycling, and can weigh the difference.


Warm Up:

Ask students to explain why recycling is important. Do they know how many of our products the U.S. recycles? Have students try to estimate the weight of trash they think their classroom produces in a day. Also have them make a list of what they think they are throwing out.


Have students work in small groups to collect and organize trash. Have them wear protective gloves and eye glasses in case of any strange trash. Have students catalogue and weigh what is in the recycling and what is in the trash cans. Have them keep track of how much of it is food, paper, plastic, etc. Is there anything in there that is reusable or did not need to be thrown out at all? Is there anything in the trash that could go in the recycling, or vice versa?

Repeat this audit as often as you see fit to watch trends or see how your classroom is improving as students becomes more aware. Ask students how they feel about the results.


Ask students to name the things the class is throwing out the most. Ask if they could be recycling more in the classroom and/or at home. Why is recycling important?


Have students make posters informing people that we all share the environment and telling people ways they can reduce their waste.

Have students repeat this study with more classes, or even school wide!


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