Reducing Solid Waste


Sixth-grade students expressed interest in helping to reduce the volume of trash their school generated, a service-learning project that fit well with their curriculum on human effects on the environment. To ensure their project would meet required standards, their teacher completed a CTS on the “Human Impact on the Environment” in Science Curriculum Topic Study (by Page Keeley, Corwin Press, 2005). With help from their community partner, the New Bedford Solid Waste Management System, students raised awareness through a campaign that involved informational posters and a school-wide competition.


Students began by gathering data on their generation of trash and recyclables at home, gaining practice in observing and recording their findings. They visited the city’s transfer station to learn more about recycling, and assessed how waste was managed at their school.


Students discovered that few recyclables were thrown out in the school cafeteria, but found – after sorting a day’s worth of trash from classrooms, a high volume of recyclable materials such as paper, cans, and plastic bottles. Students decided to focus on increasing the level of recycling within classrooms by doing an informational campaign and school-wide competition (where the classrooms on each floor would compete with other floors to generate the least amount of trash). To facilitate recycling, the students decided to provide extra bins in each classroom (supplied by their community partner).


For two months the students weighed daily the trash generated by each of the three floors, recording their data. At the end of each week, small groups would work collaboratively to calculate each floor’s average trash weight for the week.

By informing the school of the data recorded, students helped motivate classes to do more recycling. Within their own class, students reduced their daily trash generation by about 75 percent. To help raise awareness and encourage others in the school community to recycle, students created and distributed posters and wrote lyrics to a popular song. At the end of the competition, students rewarded the winning floor with a celebratory dance with free snacks and drinks.