How Do Our Attitudes Affect Waste?
Adapted from AVR - Teachers' Resource Guide, by Association for Vermont Recyclers
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SUBJECT AREAS: home economics, English, social studies
CONCEPT: Each of us is responsible for the size and content of the waste stream we generate.
OBJECTIVE: Students will assess typical purchasing practices to determine the influence of packaging on consumer choices and to determine if consumers consider waste disposal and recycling when making purchasing decisions.
MATERIALS: handout: Survey on Use of Disposable Products
KEYWORDS: recycling, waste stream, packaging
BACKGROUND: $1 out of every $11 is spent on packaging. While we need to protect the contents of the products we are purchasing, the amount of unnecessary packaging can be excessive. Buying reasonably packaged products would decrease the amount of waste we throw out.
1. Discuss the leading questions:
What influences our purchasing choices?
Why is there so much waste?
Use the Survey on Use of Disposable Products or develop your own questionnaire with the class to use in interviewing people in a grocery store to find out why they are purchasing the items in their cart. Hypothesize from class discussion what the outcome of the poll will be.
2. For homework, have students interview family members for practice. Then have them interview shoppers, asking each about several items in their cart. Before the students do the interviewing, discuss with them the following points:
a. When surveying people you do not know in a store, first get permission from the store manager for conducting the survey.
b. Introduce yourself and ask the shoppers if they would mindanswering some questions for a school survey.
c. Thank them, and be polite.


3. As a class, chart and analyze the results of the poll. Compare with class hypotheses. Identify the most common reasons for buying a food product. What percentage of the shoppers are concerned about waste disposal costs and options when deciding what to buy? How often was recyclability taken into account? How many shoppers knew of local recycling opportunities?
What are the major influences on consumer habits?
How can we change our purchasing habits to reduce solid waste?
Have students write a Positive Action Checklist for themselves or for others to help people become aware of solid waste problems and solutions.
Publish the class findings in the local newspaper.

Survey on Use of Disposable Products
1. What types of products do you buy?
Durable products: (example: cassette tapes, pens, mechanical pencils, combs, appliances, etc.)
Disposable products: (examples: shampoo bottles, fast food containers, toothpaste pumps, plastic packaging, juice boxes, razors, plastic bags, etc.)


2. How much of these types of products do you buy? (be specific)
How often?



3. Do you consider buying alternatives to disposable products? (examples: reusable canvas bags rather than plastic or paper ones, unpackaged products versus packaged ones, washable dishes rather than disposable ones)
4. What do you do with disposable products when you are finished with them?
5. Are you aware of opportunities for plastic recycling in your community?
Yes ____ No _____
Do you save plastics for recycling?
Yes ____ No _____
6. Are you aware of opportunities for glass recycling in your community?
Yes ____ No _____
Do you save glass for recycling?
Yes ____ No _____
7. What types of things do you recycle and why? (example: to claim deposit, for environmental reasons)
6. How often do you buy clothes? (number of items per week, month or year)
How do you decide what to buy? (Are you conscious of fashion, etc.? Be specific.)  


What do you do with clothes you don't want anymore?  

Survey written by Ann Gouldin, High School Senior 1990

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Cornell Waste Management Institute ©1991
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
Bradfield Hall, Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853