Trash Disposal Choices

can of trash

This lesson developed by Reach Out!

Recommended Age Group: Later Elementary

Guiding Question:

Can different kinds of trash be disposed of in different ways?





recycle icon



  1. 5 Large Clear Glass Jars
  2. Soil
  3. Water
  4. Spoon
  5. Trash from 5 catagories:
  6. Masking Tape
  7. Handouts 1 and 2


Room Preparation:

Safety Precautions:

Procedures and Activity


  1. What happens to our junk and trash? Share ideas and conclude it doesn’t just “go away.”

  2. Does all trash need to go in the dumpster and to a landfill?

  3. Today, begin an experiment to learn about different ways we can deal with trash.


    1. Introduce or review concepts of trash and landfill.

    2. Introduce categories of trash types. Write categories and brief definitions on blackboard and pass out Handout #1.

      (can be used again)
      e.g., Old Clothes
      (organic material for soil)
      e.g., Food Scraps
      Recyclable - Short Term
      (resource that can build
      back up pretty soon)
      e.g., Newspaper
      Recyclable - Long Term
      (resource that cannot build
      back up very soon)
      e.g., Pop Cans
      Hard to Reuse, Compost or Recycle
      (material that won’t decay, is difficult
      to use again, and isn’t easily recycled)
      e.g., Aerosol Cans
    3. Have children think about what they throw away every week at home and school. Put items under the appropriate category.

    4. Have students get into small groups. Each group should be in charge of one category of trash.

    5. Each group labels with masking tape their jar and type of trash.

    6. Students gather trash to fit their category. Use discussion items for ideas.

    7. Fill jars half full with soil. Add trash. Sprinkle with water. Leave lid off jar. Put jars where they won’t spill and away from direct sunlight. Stir contents every day.

    8. Using Handout #1, have students write down their prediction of what will happen to their trash over time.

    9. Have students check out the jars once a week for at least 3 weeks. Have them document observations on Handout #1.



    1. At the end of 3 or 4 weeks, have students share with the class their predictions, observations, and conclusions. Look for their use of vocabulary, understanding of concepts and principles, and ability to draw conclusions on how we should manage and dispose of trash.

    2. Students may write a brief research and summary report on their experiment.

    3. Have students share thoughts and ideas about the different kinds of trash, what is available in our community in terms of reusing and recycling trash.

    4. Have students come up with ways they can be better resource managers.

    Extension Ideas

    1. Be sure students practice what they have learned as they dispose of jar materials. If possilbe, reuse, recycle or compost jar trash; put soil back into yard or garden; and clean and reuse glass jars.

    2. Students can research community trash alternatives - landfills, composting, newspaper and paper recycling, and glass and tin can recycling. Invite people to come and share information with class, and if possible, go on some field trips and tours of facilities. Have students write a contract with themselves detailing the ways in which they will change behavior to be wiser recyclers.

    3. Support students in making plans to start a recycling, reusing, and/or compost project in classroom at school, home, or with a community site.

    4. Make a list of class resolutions that can include using both sides of paper, swapping reusable materials, not buying hard to recycle products, and starting a compost.

    5. Enjoy workshops about the environment at the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor Parks, Leslie Science Center, or the Gerald E. Eddy Discovery Center.

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    Prerequisite Vocabulary

    Decayed organic material to fertilize or recondition soil.
    To get rid of unwanted or unusable material
    A place where trash and junk is dumped
    A hunch based on your past experience and knowledge
    To modify and alter material so it can be used again.
    To use material again, usually for its original purpose.

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