Solid Waste Management 101

Fruit-VegsGoal:Build understanding of what happens to trash after it is thrown away, including innovations and flaws in the current waste management system.

Objectives: Students will…

  • Gather information about the waste industry by watching a documentary
  • Discuss ramifications of some of the facts presented

Materials:Access to internet and ability to project streaming video for entire class, or computer lab time for class.

Advance Preparation: You may wish to pre-screen the documentary Trash, Inc before showing it to your students. You will definitely want to make sure the video quality is sufficient to show on a large screen, or if you will need to assign it as homework or have students view it in the computer lab.

Time Estimate: 1 class to watch documentary, additional time for discussion

Instructional Plan

The story of trash in the United States is a long and complicated one. To give your students a taste of what happens to waste after it gets put on the curb, have them view the documentary Trash, Inc by NBC. It can be viewed online for free at:

Trash, Inc is 43 minutes long and is broken into segments. Students will learn about the scope of trash generation in the US, how landfills work and the business aspect of waste management. They will encounter innovative solutions for dealing with waste and global crises caused by excess trash.

You can pause the documentary at the end of each statement to pose discussion questions, or wait until the end. Some themes that your students may find interesting to discuss are:

  • Why are recycling rates so low when there is a market for purchasing recyclable materials?
  • What would increase recycling rates among the general public?
  • Should municipalities or companies be allowed to ship trash to landfills in other states?
  • What problems could arise from citing a landfill or incinerator near residential areas?
  • Should there be regulations on packaging and other disposable items (Styrofoam, plastic bags, etc) to reduce waste going to landfills?
  • Why is China faced with the trash problem they are experiencing?
  • If you had the authority, how would you solve China’s trash problem?

In general, you want to peak their interest in and outrage about the amount of trash our culture generates and how much that could be used or recycled is not given the opportunity.

Click here to download PDF file.