Session 1 - Trash 101

What Do We Throw Away?
The problem of “trash” can seem vague and daunting. These activities root your students in specifics: quantities, types of refuse, and examples of success. Armed with information, students can become good stewards of the world they will inherit.


Gathering information about a problem is a crucial prelude to effective action.

The specific definition of trash can vary from person to person, but the key point is that it consists of material one no longer wants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency divides trash into seven categories: paper, plastics, metals, glass, yard trimmings, food waste, and other.



Try This!  

Figure your trash totals.
Get the messy facts about garbage.
Sort trash into key categories.
Learn how student power tackled trash.
Meet some waste warriors.




Trash Totals

The average American throws away 4.4 pounds (1.9 kilograms) of trash every day. That may not sound like much until you start multiplying. (Need help? Try this calculator link.) Some numbers to figure:

  • How much trash does an average American generate in a week? A month? A year?
  • How much does your class throw away each day? Each week?

How much garbage builds up each day in your town or city? Your state?



Messy Facts

What do your students “know” about garbage? Have them write it down. Then check out the Association of Science-Technology Centers site and share key points with your pupils. How do their ideas change?



Seven Types of Trash

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sorts trash into seven categories:



Ask your students to guess which category accounts for most of America’s trash. Which category is smallest? Answers are available at the EPA site.

Note: While at the EPA site, list the categories by size, starting with the largest. You’ll need the list when your class collects, sorts, and weighs its trash.




Student Power Tackles Trash

Faced with environmental issues, your students may well groan, “But what can I do?” The following examples may inspire answers.

Lakeview Elementary School
Town TK, State TK


Third graders at Lakeview began turning discarded paper from the school office into stationery. The project spurred their interest in the environment, and a program called Eco-Aware was born.

Eco-Aware members began picking up trash on school grounds and recycling what they could. They then developed a plan to beautify the school property. Parents, business, and community-service groups helped the students create a butterfly garden and wetland.
Sunrise Elementary School
Spokane, Washington


Four boys began their conservation work modestly—picking up trash from the school yard. They progressed to collecting recyclables and worked with administrators to have recycling bins put in the school. The boys, all in fourth grade, also went door-to-door in their neighborhoods, gathering newspapers, plastics, cans, and glass. Their parents helped them haul the material to recycling plants.
Various Schools
Allentown, Pennsylvania


Elementary school students collect old telephone directories and deliver them to the county government, which gives the entire lot to a local farmer. He shreds the books and sells remains to other farmers to use as animal bedding in their barns.




Waste Warriors

Need inspiration? The Association of Science-Technology Centers profiles people and organizations that have fought effectively against trash.