Recycling and Waste Reduction

Warm up: He’s saving his trash – in his house – for a year!
     1. In class, or as homework the night before, have students read the article in Reproducible #1: “He’s saving his trash—in his house—for a year” and individually answer the reflection questions (Reproducible #2: Article Reflection Questions). See Reproducible #7 – Sample Answers to Questions.
     2. Solicit students to share and discuss answers with the class

Activity One: Discussing and Estimating Daily Recycling

     1. Discuss the key vocabulary terms and concepts, focusing on recycling as the process of using old items to make new items. Tell your students that when they recycle old notebooks and newspapers, they are used to make new things instead of simply sitting in a landfill. Plus, virgin resources, such as trees, do not need to be used to make new products. Tell your students that paper isn’t the only material that can be recycled; plastic, aluminum, steel, and glass can be reused too.

     2. As a class, brainstorm different types of recyclable items that they might encounter on a daily basis. Discuss daily activities and the recyclable items involved in each, for example: eating (plastic cups and dishes, aluminum food and drink containers, cardboard cereal boxes, plastic milk jugs…), doing school work (paper, printer ink cartridges, electronics…), purchasing products from the store (plastic packaging, cardboard boxes, plastic containers…), etc.

     3. Ask students to individually fill in Reproducible #3: Daily Recyclable Chart. Encourage them to come up with one new item in each category.

     4. Allow students enough time to fill in their chart. Have them share their answers with each other and discuss.

Activity Two: Building Knowledge of Recycling

     1. Talk to your students about recycling and waste in more depth. Tell students that in 2007, Americans consumed 96,751 tons of paper, which is a lot of paper! Mention that because of the success of the recycling industry; 56.1% of that paper (54.3 million tons) was recycled . However, paper can only be recycled if each of us makes an effort to dispose of it properly in recycling bins. Talk about how great it would be if 100% of all paper could be recycled and we no longer needed to cut down trees!

     2. It is important for students to develop an awareness of what they consume and how much waste they produce so that they will incorporate recycling into their daily lives. The average American generates 4.6 pounds of waste per day, but only recycles 1.5 pounds of it. Use the information from Reproducible #4: Municipal Solid Waste, or have students read the article themselves to inform your instruction. Then have students answer the reflection questions (Reproducible #5: Municipal Solid Waste Reflection Questions). Solicit students to share and discuss answers with the class.

     3. Tell them how many of the materials that you use at school can be reused to make other items. Use the chart in Reproducible #6: From Used to New, as a framework to lead your students’ discovery of what materials can be recycled and what they turn into. Have students fill in as they follow along. Use examples of how products can be recycled from your school’s waste. For extra credit have students bring in examples ahead of time. See if your class can come up with new answers not on this chart.

Activity Three: Hands-on Activity - Making Paper
The following experiment demonstrates the simplicity of the recycling process. When students collect old newspapers and classroom papers, they become more aware of the amount of materials in their lives that can be recycled. When they complete this project, they will have tangible proof of the process of how materials are recycled.
     1. Students should rip newspapers and old office papers into tiny pieces. Put the ripped pieces of paper in the blender and add warm water to the blender.
     2. Mix the paper and water until it becomes well blended, making paper pulp. Add more water or paper to get a thick consistency.
     3. Pour 3 cm of water into the pan. Place your screen into the pan and then pour one cup of paper pulp onto the screen.
     4. Spread the pulp evenly in the water with your fingers. It should feel mushy.
     5. Lift the screen out of the water slowly, allowing the water to drain.
     6. Place the pulp-covered screen face down on a piece of cloth or in between newspaper. Lift the screen away, leaving the paper pulp on the cloth or paper. Cover with another cloth and iron with a hot iron, or use a rolling pin to flatten and press out excess moisture.
     7. Let the pulp dry for at least 24 hours.
     8. Slowly lift the pulp, leaving behind the fabric—this is your sheet of paper!

Wrap Up: Recycling Discussion
Ask students to name what types of materials they learned could be recycled, and why it is important to recycle these items. Discuss other ways that they can reduce their waste, both at school and at home (buy items with less packaging, use items completely before replacing, only buy what you need, etc.). Encourage students to recycle, and answer any questions they may have about how to recycle at school and at home. Empower them to take what they’ve learned home and share how important recycling is with their parents and friends

Extension: Recycling at Your School
     1. Have your students make recycling posters to hang around school. They should encourage others to recycle, and also explain how and what materials to recycle.

     2. Ask your students if they are interested in starting a recycling program at your school. If your school already has a recycling program, ask for suggestions on how they think the program could be improved or expanded. See Earth Day Network’s Recycling Background and Student Action Plan for more information.