Classroom Waste Habits

Fruit-VegsGoal:Examine the classroom’s trash to quantify it and discover throw away habits within the classroom community.

Objectives: Students will…

  • Classify waste into reusable, recyclable, compostable and trash
  • Evaluate the history of items in trash to determine how/why they got there
  • Measure volume and mass of trash by category
  • Make a clearly labeled table
  • Record data in table
  • Think about their own throw away habits and whether they could improve to generate less trash

Materials:Tarps or old sheets, trash collected from classroom over prior week, gloves, sorting containers, scale

Advance Preparation: For a week prior to this lesson, collect and store the waste generated in your classroom without mentioning that you are doing this to the students.

Time Estimate:3 min Intro
25 min Waste sort, measure, record data, discussion
5 min Small group list of habits
10 min Sharing habit lists and agreeing on a set
5 min clean up

Instructional Plan

Your intro to students might go something like this:”Now that we’ve gotten a picture of how much waste is generated every day in our country, and what happens to it, let’s zoom in to a much smaller scale: our classroom. I’ve been collecting the waste that goes into the __________ (trash, recycling bin, compost collector… whatever is relevant for your classroom) for the past _____ days and here it is. We are going to examine it to learn a little about our classroom’s trash habits.”

Waste Sort
Dump the trash out onto tarps (on the floor or on large tables). Ask students to come up with a way of sorting it (may be by material type, use type, whether it can be recycled or composted, etc). This may work best in small groups so each can develop their own hierarchy of sorting. Or you can do it as a whole class.

Ask students to measure the volume and mass of the waste in each of their categories (thinking through how to make consistent volume measurements). They should record the data in a table they develop and label accurately.

Waste Analysis
As the students sort the trash, talk about the specific items they find using questions like:

  • How was this used?
  • Why did it end up in the trash?
  • Does it have more useful life in it?
  • Can it be reused somehow?

Get students to think of the objects as more than just trash. You could even give them the challenge of making an art piece out of appropriate items.

Behavior Recommendations
The first step in improving the sustainability of solid waste at an institution is reducing wasteful habits. Ask students to make a list of recommendations for how members of the classroom community could improve their solid waste habits (do this alone or in small groups). This could include improving waste infrastructure, like getting a worm bin or adding recycling containers. Have students share their recommendations with the rest of the class. Discuss the entire list of recommendations to derive a single list the class can commit to doing.

Clean everything up!

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