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Activity: how can we reduce our garbage footprint?

Make science come alive in your classroom with this free hands-on investigative activity aligned to middle school NGSS standards.

Activity: how can we reduce our garbage footprint?

Did you know that humans around the world generate about two billion tons of garbage every year? That’s a lot! All of this garbage is a threat to the environment and to human health. Solving the garbage problem will require the help of governments and industry. But, there are things we as individuals can do, too!
In this activity, students monitor their own garbage production, uncovering hidden patterns in the things they throw away. By examining their waste habits, students discover opportunities to reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost items that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
A green outdoor trash can filled to overflowing with garbage. The garbage includes many plastic cups with straws.
An overflowing garbage can. Image credit: “Garbage Can” by FASTILY, CC BY-SA 4.0.

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Overview

This activity is designed to be completed in two 45-minute class periods plus a week of individual data recording, with additional time required for follow-up creative projects. The activity consists of the following parts:
  • Setting the stage—Students demonstrate understanding that landfills can lead to environmental and health problems, so it is important to be conscious of the amount of garbage we throw away. (20 minutes)
  • Investigation (Part 1)—Students record data about their own garbage production. (1 week, independent work)
  • Investigation (Part 2)—Students analyze their data and identify patterns in their garbage production. (35 minutes)
  • Let's get creative!—Students use the patterns they identify to come up with three actions to reduce their garbage footprint. (10 minutes)
  • Keep creating!—Students can choose from additional project ideas. Each project encourages students to combine scientific knowledge with creativity to produce something new.

NGSS performance expectations

MS-ESS3-3. Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

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This activity is brought to you with support from Adobe, our official creativity partner.

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user sarveshkotasthane
    Wow Starbucks is doing this
    (4 votes)
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  • piceratops sapling style avatar for user anotheremail9400
    i view starbucks now in a differant way becuase of this
    (4 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user 4806863711
    I now think very weird about starbucks. They made a lot of trash......
    (2 votes)
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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user Aye6TEN
    I knew Starbucks didn't care about the planet. Have you seen its ad with Mother Nature chained to the ground? STARBUCKS IS CORRUPTED.
    (2 votes)
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  • female robot grace style avatar for user Whitney💖💖
    ok, nobody take this the wrong way cuz I'm not trying to end up in a debate XD, but you guys are all saying STARBUCKS is making a lot of trash... and I agree... but once a cup is sold and the drink has been drank (or drunk I think?), it's not exactly their responsibility anymore. Now of course there's all the food they waste when they don't sell it, all I'm saying is its not just their fault ALL those cups are in their
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Gavin S.
    Setting the stage—Students demonstrate understanding that landfills can lead to environmental and health problems, so it is important to be conscious of the amount of garbage we throw away. (20 minutes)
    Investigation (Part 1)—Students record data about their own garbage production. (1 week, independent work)
    Investigation (Part 2)—Students analyze their data and identify patterns in their garbage production. (35 minutes)
    Let's get creative!—Students use the patterns they identify to come up with three actions to reduce their garbage footprint. (10 minutes)
    Keep creating!—Students can choose from additional project ideas. Each project encourages students to combine scientific knowledge with creativity to produce something new.
    Printable resources
    (0 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user