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Environmental Management Department > Curriculum > Lesson Plans > Recycling Habits

Environmental Lesson Plan: Recycling Habits

Click here to download a printable version of this lesson plan.

Grade Level: K-4
Duration: 45 minutes

When we throw stuff away we may think that once it leaves the curb, it’s gone. Every year, the United States generates over 240 million tons of municipal solid waste, nearly 5 pounds of garbage per person per day! Reducing, reusing, and recycling keeps garbage out of landfills.

Every time we throw something away we throw with it the energy, the money, the raw materials, natural resources used to produce the item and the water it took to make it. It is estimated that between 60 and 70% of everything we throw away could be recycled, thus saving the energy, the money, the natural resources and the water to make new items to replace those thrown away.

In 1990, it is estimated that Americans threw away over 1 million tons of aluminum cans, more than 11 million tons of glass bottles and over 4 million tons of office paper. All of this material could have been recycled.

Recycling saves huge amounts of energy. Recycling one glass jar saves enough energy to light a 100 watt light bulb for four hours. Recycling one soda can saves as much energy as if the can were half full of gasoline (gasoline is made from a natural resource – oil). Americans threw away 35 billion aluminum cans on an average year which was enough aluminum to build our entire air fleet four times over. Energy costs are a huge part of the price of every item we purchase and conserving energy is an important concern for environmentalist all around the world. Conserving energy is becoming an important issue today.

Energy conservation and recycling is a habit and a conscious choice. By introducing students to choices we can make, a habit can be reinforced making them more informed, conscious consumers and a habitual recycler.

To think beyond the garbage can. When we question what happens to the material we simply throw away, other alternatives can be considered.

Ask each student to bring in one item that they were going to throw away. It should be something that is relatively clean, so no food items should be considered. Perhaps a cereal box, gum wrappers, packaging for any item purchased, old sock or shoe, ripped jeans or any clothing item that may be worn out, a plastic soda bottle, aluminum can, etc.

Activities and Procedures
Take a few minutes and determine what went into making each item. If a student brings in any kind of paper item, explain that paper is made using wood pulp, probably a white pine tree or other type of tree grown specifically for making paper. Think of the worker who cut down the tree, transporting the trees to a mill where the bark is removed, the tree is cut into wood, wood chips are pulped for use either to burn for energy for the plant or ground to make into paper pulp, the wood is then shipped/trucked to a factory where it is further ground and chopped, water added, pushed through presses to make flat paper, and sold to companies who will make the cereal boxes or writing paper.

Each item requires many steps to becoming a product that we forget to consider when making the choice to recycle or throw into the trash.

Optional Extension

  1. What items can be found in the garbage in your home?
  2. Are any of the items used again (recycled) in most of our households? (If so what are they used for?) Look for the recycle symbol on a tissue box in your classroom. The next time you are looking for a greeting card, notice on the back of the card. Can you find any made from recycled paper?
  3. Does your city have a place where people can take items to recycle? Is there curbside recycling in your town?
  4. What happens to the stuff we throw in our trash? It goes to the landfill. What happens to the stuff there?
  5. Look at the decomposition chart in the back of this manual to understand what happens to the stuff you throw in the trash.
  6. Do you recycle paper in your classroom? Would it be possible to start recycling paper in your classroom?

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