Reducing Roadside Trash


Participating in an annual roadside cleanup organized by Friends of Acadia, science students found significant numbers of “take-out” containers and coffee cups. They created a service-learning project to help address this problem and reinforce their studies on the flow of matter and energy, cycles, conservation of matter and human impact on the environment.

Most of the school’s students are well acquainted with “green” practices as environmental practices and ways of understanding are already integrated into the school culture. To extend this knowledge and get inspired to do more service-learning, the class read Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands.

To determine which types of trash were most prevalent in their community on Mount Desert Island, students divided trash into four categories: polystyrene (i.e., Styrofoam™); plastic; trash; and returnable cans/bottles.

After a two-hour roadside cleanup, they analyzed the data and discussed how trash on an island can readily pollute the ocean (tying this problem to their recent curricular studies of the water cycle, the Pacific trash gyres, and food webs).

Students decided to focus on two items—coffee cups and take-out containers—where they felt they might have an impact. Since their school still served some desserts in polystyrene containers, students decided to incorporate that problem into their project.


Students designed a detailed survey that they administered to 13 area businesses and restaurants—assessing what takeout containers they used, what recycling practices they had, and whether they were open to changing products.
After analyzing their survey data, students identified ways they could help businesses improve their recycling practices (e.g., informing them of local recycling policies and procedures, and helping more of them understand how prevalent roadside trash is). The end of the school year prevented further implementation of these “solutions,” but the next eighth grade science class may take over the project.

Students met with the school chef to discuss other packaging options for the cafeteria’s frozen yogurts. When they learned alternatives might be more expensive, they surveyed students and found 100 percent would rather have frozen desserts in more environmentally sound packaging, even if they were served less often. The class shared these results with the chef, and she promised to look into alternatives.
Throughout the project, students engaged in reflection and collaboration as they worked in teams and met with others frequently to discuss successes and challenges. Students role-played in preparation for interviews and surveys.