What Is This Computer Made Of?
Adapted from Recycling: Mining Resources From Trash, Cornell Waste Management Institute
Back to Trash Goes To School

SUBJECT AREAS: science, social studies
CONCEPT: Everything is made from natural resources, some of which are renewable and others of which are not.
OBJECTIVE: To identify how many resources are used to produce an item and why each resource is so important. To have students examine their own use of renewable and nonrenewable natural resources, determine which are essential for their survival and suggest ways they might change their lifestyles to make more careful use of natural resources.
handout: "What Is This Made Of" Record
KEYWORDS: natural resources, renewable, finite
BACKGROUND: Most resources are renewable if we have a million years to wait for their production. Renewable resources can be remade in a relatively short time period. Nonrenewable or finite resources may take millions of years, and only if conditions are right. We would like to think we can "manage" our renewable resources, yet we have failed, given the depletion of oil supplies and the rapidly increasing rate of extinction of plant and animal species. Wise use and conservation must be stressed so that we can maintain our resources over the long term.
1. What is a natural resource? Define and list several examples.
2. Define the term "renewable" and "nonrenewable" resource. (Some renewable resources are: solar energy, water, food and wood. Some nonrenewable resources are: petroleum, tin, bauxite, coal, copper, and lead.)
3. Use an object that youth are familiar with to explore how many resources are used to make it. Youth should realize that everything is made from natural resources. Example: computer, pencil, house, bicycle, car, softball. List all the raw materials needed to produce whatever object you have chosen. Decide if the resources are renewable or nonrenewable. Discuss the implications of exhausting limited resources. (i.e. the politics of petroleum)
Example: House:
      glass (sand)
      wood (trees)
      cement (sand, water)
      aluminum (bauxite)
      electricity (coal or oil)
      stone or rock
4. Have students list a product they used or consumed between the time they got home from school yesterday and when they went to bed.
Describe a scenario or event and as a group; list what products were used.
5. Discuss which products are made of renewable resources and which of nonrenewable resources. Classify each product as: essential to survival, maintenance of lifestyle, or a luxury. Discuss:
Which, if any, items listed in the "essential" category are really not essential for survival? Explain your response.
Do you think your parents and grandparents would place the products in different categories? Why or why not?
6. After discussing the lists, suggest alternatives for each item, making an effort to replace items that you think are inefficient or wasteful with items that are less wasteful. Discuss:
Look at the list of items you listed as luxuries. Which items could you give up without major change in your lifestyle?
Make a list, beginning with the easiest item to give up and ending with the most difficult. Could you give up the top three items on this list for a day, week, or month? Try it. How do you feel about it?
Think of several ways to reuse and recycle items you decided you can't give up.
Identify some of the economic, cultural and environmental impacts of any changes you make or recommend. Consider the implications if your entire family, school, community and country made such changes.
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"What Is This Made Of" Record
Item being examined _____________________________

 Parts that make up the object

 Raw material needed

Renewable in 100 years?
 e.g. computer copper wire no