Four Winds Nature Institute

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Four Winds Nature Institute

4 Casey Rd. Chittenden, VT 05737


Ecosystems – WASTE NOT – Activities
Focus: The disposal of solid waste has a significant effect on the environment, and there are simple choices people can make that help to reduce solid waste production. A change in our outlook so that we consider all the costs, including disposal, of things we buy or make will help to sustain the health of natural ecosystems and their inhabitants into the future.
Unit Lesson Plan

Introduction: Ask the children what they know about trash – what it is and where it goes after we throw it away.

PUPPET SHOW “The Litterbug”

Objective: To consider how littering wastes resources and harms the environment.
Perform the puppet show or have a group of children perform it for the class. Afterward, ask questions to review the key details and vocabulary in the story. Hold up each item the litterbug threw away and ask the children what choices could be made to reduce, reuse, and recycle these items:

Disposable coffee cup: reduce by bringing your own travel mug;

Paper bag: reduce by using cloth grocery bags, lunch boxes; or reuse and then recycle;

Newspaper: reuse and then recycle;

Paper towel: reduce by using cloth towels;

Aluminum can: recycle instead of mining new ore.

What happens to the deer antlers when they are shed?

Materials: puppets, script, props; optional: recording of jitterbug music.

Objective: To model decomposition over time and discover that some things are biodegradable and others are not.

Explain that you’ve invited a guest scientist to bring in a Time Machine to test how long it takes for different kinds of trash to disintegrate. Ahead of time, hide a dish of soil in the Time Machine. Have the scientist/professor (Dr. Timestein or Dr. Lozzarotta) arrive with items leftover from breakfast, and place some food scraps and eggshells (in a matching bowl) into the Time Machine. The children can make wind, rain, and chewing insect sound effects while the scientist turns the dial and counts off the seasons. The scientist opens the Time Machine after 1 year to find that all but the eggshells have turned into soil. He/she places the eggshells back in the machine and advances another year, and finds that they have now turned into soil. Now the scientist tries a paper newspaper, and finds that it takes a year to biodegrade into soil. Finally, the scientist puts in a plastic fork and finds that it doesn’t turn into soil in 1, 10, and even 100 years. Have the scientist decide to go back to the laboratory and work on discovering other materials that are biodegradable. Why didn’t the fork turn into soil? (no decomposers to feed on it) What else might the scientist use instead of the plastic fork? (reusable fork)

Materials: Time Machine (decorated cardboard box with a flap that opens in front, hinged on the bottom, and various dials); breakfast leavings (bread crusts, orange or banana peels, used tea bag), eggshells; a newspaper; plastic fork; 2 similar bowls – one containing soil; crushed eggshells; costume for scientist/professor (eg. lab coat, wig, funny glasses).

Objective: To create a model to represent the decomposition rates of common household trash items over time, and discuss ways to remove trash from the solid waste stream.
Place timeline markers on the ground, or write with sidewalk chalk on a blacktop, starting with “1 month” and going to “1 million years” – modifying the scale as needed. Have each child pick up an item from “Trash Central” and stand shoulder to shoulder in a line parallel to and facing the timeline. As the leader calls out decomposition rates for trash (from the list below) children move to stand behind the time marker along the timeline at the place where they think their item will break down or decompose. Afterward, compare to the chart below. Were there any surprises? Many people don’t realize that plastics don’t biodegrade.
Afterwards, for each trash item on the timeline, ask students to decide what might be done to keep it out of the waste stream. Have students place the ‘timeline” items into the appropriate box - Reduce (Don’t Buy), Reuse (Use Again), Recycle (Make Into Something Else), and Compost (Turn Into Soil).

Trash Decomposition Timeline What to do with it

Apple 2 months Compost

Orange Peels 4-6 months Compost

Cotton Cloth 5 months Reuse

Newspaper 1 year Recycle

Wool socks 1 year Recycle

Waxed Milk carton 5 years Reduce

Leather shoes 40 - 50 years Recycle

Tin cans 80 – 100 years Recycle

Aluminum cans 200-500 years Recycle

Plastic bags 500+ (unknown) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Plastic cups, bottles, bags 1000+ (unknown) Reduce, Recycle

Plastic jug 1 million years? (unknown) Reduce, Recycle

Polystyrene cup 1 million years? (unknown) Reduce

Glass 1 million years? (unknown) Reuse, Recycle


What kinds of materials last the longest? How could we reduce the amount we use of these things?
Optional: Have children gather trash on the school grounds and then sort into appropriate boxes as above. Be sure to supply gloves and bags for collecting the litter.

Materials: signs for each timeline category, gym cones or other place markers or sidewalk chalk; apple, orange peel, cotton cloth, newspaper, wool sock, waxed milk carton, leather shoe, tin can, aluminum can, plastic bag, plastic soda bottle, glass jar, and four labeled boxes – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Compost; optional: grocery bags for collecting litter, safety gloves.

Objective: To model the process of recycling paper, using classroom materials.
A day ahead of time, collect paper scraps from the classroom recycling boxes and use paper shredder to chop it into little bits. Or, tear some newspaper or used craft paper scraps into ½" pieces. For each quart of slurry, you will need 1 cupful of paper scraps. Add water to make 1 quart. Let soak overnight. Make 2-4 batches like this for a class. You can make two different colors, or you can mix colored-paper scraps to make new colors. Make deckles by cutting metal window screening into 4" squares or circles and covering the edges with tape, or use screening in embroidery hoops.

While the children watch, use an old blender to mix up the paper solution until it forms a thick and evenly blended slurry (warning: this will eventually dull the blades). Pour the mixture into a dishpan. Have children each put their name onto a folded sheet of copy paper. One by one, help the students to dip a deckle into the dishpan and scoop up a batch of slurry (on the top side of embroidery hoops). Let the water drip out for a few seconds. Now place the copy paper over the deckle and flip it onto a folded bath towel. Show the children how to press a sponge against the screen to soak up water from the paper. Squeeze water out of the sponge into a basin, and then repeat this process until no more water seems to come out. Now, carefully lift the deckle; the recycled paper will stay behind on the copy paper. Allow the paper to dry for a few hours or overnight until you can gently peel the recycled paper off the copy paper backing. Each child will have a piece of recycled paper to take home that he/she made.

Why is it a good idea to recycle paper? How would paper-recycling affect the number of trees we cut down?

Materials: 2 - 4 cups of shredded paper scraps from classroom recycling bins, 2 – 4 quarts of water, 1 for each cup of paper scraps, an old blender, several squares of wire screen with taped edges, small sponges, dish basins, scrap copy paper folded in half - one per student, 2 large folded bath towels; optional: dried and pressed petals or leaves to embed in the paper (add these to the slurry and they will be incorporated into the paper), cookie cutters for designs.

Objective: To discover how and where waste is disposed of in your school.
Ahead of time, find out what happens to waste at your school. Talk to the kitchen and custodial staff to find out where trash and recycling are taken. Take your class on a school tour to see the kitchen waste, recycling, and trash collection facilities in the school, and if possible, talk to the people who are in charge of that work.
Afterwards, talk with children about ways to improve recycling, reducing or reusing in the school or in their homes. Could children do a better job of recycling at lunchtime? Are they conscientious about using both sides of a sheet of paper? Is there a way for the school to start composting? Generate a list of their ideas on a white board for all to see. Later they will use these ideas to create posters (see Journal Activity below).

Materials: recycled paper, pencils, markers or crayons.

Objective: To share ideas about how we can reduce solid waste.

Give children some time to write in their journals using this prompt: Something I (or my class or family) could do to make less trash is ______________. Have them make a poster to illustrate their idea. Then, in small groups, have children share their ideas and posters. Display posters on a community bulletin board for all to see.

Materials: for each child, journal or paper, pencils, poster paper, crayons, markers or paints.

Objective: To consider how individual life style choices impact the amount of solid waste created and energy consumed and how these choices have changed over time.
Have students think about their daily activities. What products and services do they use on a regular basis? Do they think that their parents and grandparents used the same products or did the same activities when they were younger? Explain that each student is going to have a few minutes to complete a short survey and they are to mark an X in the box for each activity they have ever done.
Give each student a survey sheet to complete. When all are done, ask students about a few of the activities. What is the connection of each to the issue of solid waste? Ask children to take their survey home and have their parents and grandparents complete it. What do they think their answers to the different questions might be?

Materials: pencils, copies of Have You Ever survey, one for each child.

Over-Packaged: Bring in some examples of over-packaged foods such as juice boxes, individual snack packages, boxed sandwiches, etc. Calculate how many juice boxes would be needed to make a gallon of juice. How much waste would be produced compared to making a gallon of juice from frozen concentrate? Discuss packaging that is less wasteful.

Field Trip: Visit a recycling center or living-machine waste-treatment facility and see how recycling works on a large scale.

Jazzy Junk: Collect a variety of clean trash items that are good for making sounds such as glass soda bottles (to blow over), rubber bands (to twang), combs (to pluck), cans (to bang on), tube and waxed paper kazoos, containers for shakers. Help children to construct instruments and then perform with them individually and as a group.

Recycled Masks: Collect a variety of clean trash items such as plastic milk caps, bottles, paper, toilet paper tubes, boxes, bottle caps, foil pans, string, rubber bands, bread ties, and have children use these to make face masks on paper plates. Compose a play for all the recycled characters.

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