Academic journal article The Science Teacher

What's in Your Trash?

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

What's in Your Trash?

Article excerpt

Each year, Americans generate 250 million tons of waste, recycle or compost about 33% of it, and dispose of most of the remainder in landfills (EPA 2009). Although recycling has increased in the United States since 1980 (EPA 2009), waste generation has increased along with it. The average American creates 2 kg (4.5 lbs.) of waste daily (EPA 2009)--the highest per capita waste generation in the world (Tyler Miller 2007). From the big picture of American consumption patterns to students' personal contributions, resource consumption and waste production are fascinating topics to explore in the classroom.

As an introduction to this topic, I recommend showing The Story of Stuff to your students (see "On the web"). This thought-provoking, 20-minute video is interactive and can be watched in parts. Some of the material might make students feel guilty about all the "stuff' they use and throw away. Preview the video before you show it, so you're prepared for their questions, comments, and criticisms.

If you have time to dedicate to this topic, use the new curriculum developed by Facing the Future (see "On the web"). Buy, Use, Toss? is a two-week curriculum unit that leads students through the production and consumption of goods. Each lesson meets national science and social studies standards, and many involve portions of The Story of Stuff video. Use the entire curriculum, or one or two lessons.

For example, students can complete the 45-minute "Garbology" lesson. This lesson includes a great extension in which each student does a "trash carry" (i.e., collects all the trash he or she produces over a 24-hour period) and compares it to the typical per capita waste production in America.

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Finally, check out the Environmental Protection Agency's Tools to Reduce Waste in Schools (see "On the web"). …

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