Goal: Quantify the amount of waste being generated by school by category (reusable, recyclable, compostable, trash)
Objectives: Students will…
Materials: tarps, trash bags, rubber gloves, bathroom scale, large bins or trash cans, calculators
Advance Preparation: figure out who in your school students should ask for statistics on waste hauling and landscape waste, inform any necessary staff about your waste audit plans
Time Estimate: 3 days
1 class period for planning
1-2 class periods for collecting, sorting, measuring
1 class period for data analysis
Plan the Audit
Present students with the following challenge:
Figure out how much reusable, recyclable, compostable and landfillable waste is disposed of at school every day, week, month and year.
You can frame this as a question to answer using the scientific method or as the challenge stated above. You can do this planning as a large group brainstorm or break into small groups. It may make sense to do the general planning in a large group and then break into groups focused on specific tasks that need more detailed planning (ex. categorize, measurement, collection, sorting, data recording)
The students should lead the research design process but here are some tips to keep in mind.
Who will you need cooperation from in order to conduct a successful audit (custodiams, teachers, cafeteria workers, administration, secretaries…) and how will you communicate your plans?
Conduct the Audit
How you coordinate the audit efforts will depend on the plan your students have developed, how many class sections you have working on this and how you wish to divide labor. If you have multiple classes you could have each of them conduct all steps in the process or you could get them to team up and divide the labor (ex. one class does cafeteria waste, another does classroom waste and they share the data).
Some tips to help your audit go smoothly.
Analyze the Results
Your students will be recording their data as they collect it. If your classes will be sharing data with each other, you should consolidate all of the data in one place so you can share it easily. Assist students through the process of extrapolating their data from their samples to the entire school building and from one day to a week, month and school year.
If you have not already, have the students collect information from the waste hauler or facilities manager about the amount of trash and recycling removed from the school and compare their calculations with the actual data.