I recently had the pleasure of delivering a series of one-hour recycling lessons to students in Mansfield, Mass. In all, 11 third-grade classes and 16 sixth-grade classes participated in my “Talking Trash” and “Recycling Relay Race” programs.
Recycling Education Can Be Fun
These recycling education programs are designed to be interactive and fun. I start by asking if anyone knows where their trash actually goes after it’s collected at the curbside. It’s always interesting to hear students share what they know (or think they know) about waste management and recycling.
Most kids have a general idea that their trash goes to a “dump” or a “landfill.” In Mansfield’s case, students were surprised to learn that the town’s waste is incinerated at the Wheelabrator plant in Millbury, Mass.
Students generally had no idea what happens to their recyclables. To reinforce the benefits of recycling, the programs include a brief video that shows the inner workings of a material recovery facility (MRF) as well as examples of how these materials are used to make new products. For example, few students were aware that the fleece jackets that are so popular today are produced from fabric made from recycled plastic bottles.
Each lesson reviews the town’s rules for single stream recycling at school and at home, along with ways to reduce the contamination rate. We also discuss ways that students can reduce the amount of waste they generate each day. This includes using reusable water bottles and reusable containers for lunch.
Each program ends with a fun, interactive activity. The third graders participate in a relay race that challenges them to place an item in one of four bins. One bin is for single stream recyclables, one is for items that can recycled in other locations (such as bringing plastic bags back to the supermarket), one for compost, and a fourth bin is for trash. This activity reinforces the lessons covered during my presentation.
The sixth graders compete in a “trashy trivia” contest that tests their ability to recall details of that day’s presentation. For example, what does MRF stand for? What happens to the town’s trash after it arrives at its final destination? The winning team receives reusable water bottles or reusable shopping bags.
I am always impressed by students’ environmental awareness and passion for protecting the planet. After showing a brief video clip about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, I’ve witnessed several students on the verge of tears. Others get angry about the plastic waste that’s fouling our oceans. It’s this type of passion that gives me hope for the future or our planet!