Trash or Treasure?
Back to Trash Goes to School

social studies
language arts
environmental education
home economics
CONCEPT: "Trash" includes valuable resources.
OBJECTIVE: To have students find out why, how, and where they should recycle or reuse what they throw away.
handout: Waste Checklist
pen or pencil
KEYWORDS: brainstorm, feasible
BACKGROUND: The United States is the number one producer of garbage in the world. This is a fact that needs to be changed. We have too much garbage to dispose of it in a traditional manner. Instead, we need to look at our trash as a resource. By reducing, reusing, sharing, and recycling, we can accomplish this, leaving less waste to be disposed of using traditional and new innovative methods.
1. Give each student a copy of the Waste Checklist to fill out, or put the list on the board and work through it as a group. Feel free to add your own items.
2. Consider the following questions:
- How could you have reused items?
- Did you wonder whether the napkins were paper or cloth? What difference might this make?
- What could you have done with recyclable items?
- What could you have done with apple cores or orange peels?
- Which items are difficult to reuse or recycle? Why?
- Should we as a society be making products that are reusable or recyclable?
- Should items that are wrapped in difficult-to-dispose-of packaging cost more or be banned?
- Did any of your classmates reuse or recycle any of the items you threw away?
- How did they reuse or recycle the items?
- Was reusing or recycling them easy to do? Why or why not?
- What do you think happens to the items you threw away?
- What items can you recycle in your school?
Brainstorm the steps your class might take to design and implement a recycling project for your classroom or school. Select a project that is feasible. For example, collect and recycle paper from the school's copy machine and classrooms. Who can you contact to help you with your project?
Consider doing your project!

Waste Checklist
Directions: Put an X next to the items you threw in the wastebasket this week.
_____ Paper bag
_____ Newspaper
_____ Book
_____ Magazine
_____ Paper milk carton
_____ Other paper
_____ Napkin
_____ Aluminum can
_____ Apple core
_____ Old clothes
_____ Plastic milk carton
_____ Tin can
_____ Glass jar
_____ Gum Wrapper
_____ Orange peel
_____ Plastic bag
_____ Broken toy
_____ Grass clippings
_____ Batteries
_____ Old Clothing
_____ Other
Of all the items you threw out, take an inventory to see how they could have been shared, reused, avoided or reduced, recycled, or composted.
Which items had to be disposed of in a landfill or incinerator?

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