The Garbage Project!

An Online Collaborative Project

Ideas For Further Exploration

Discussion Questions | Activities | Interesting Facts

Discussion Questions:

(Can be modified for specific grade levels)

  • What solutions can you think of to reduce the amount of trash produced? Why is it important to reduce the amount of trash we produce?
  • What is recycling? What are reuse, energy recovery and landfilling?
  • What types of solid waste can be recycled, reused, recovered or landfilled?
  • What are some advantages of recycling?
  • What are some disadvantages of recycling?
  • What are the pros and cons of energy recovery and landfilling?
  • What can you do in your school and at home to recycle solid waste?
  • How can you find out about local recycling programs?
  • What happens to all the trash you throw away?
  • Where is "away"? Is there such a place?
  • What do you think happens to waste at the landfill?
  • What are possible problems with piling waste in landfills?
  • What would you do with your family's trash if there was no truck that came to take it away? How might this affect the amount of trash your family makes?
  • What relationship might there be between an increasing human population and the amount of trash generated?
  • How have increases in numbers of people and amounts of trash affected the environment?
  • What are the predictions for future human population growth?
  • What predictions might you make for the amounts of trash we'll produce in the future?
  • What impacts might an increasing population have on our use of natural resources?
  • List three examples each of recyclable and non-recyclable packaging.
  • What criteria might you consider when deciding whether packaging is necessary? wasteful?
  • What happens to most of the packaging you purchase? What can you do to change this?

Questions obtained from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Recycling Study Guide


  1. Make a list with the following information about the businesses or organizations that recycle: name, address, telephone number, materials recycled, hours of operation, whether the organization will pay you for materials and any other useful information.
  2. Think of the trash that your family throws away each week. Try to think of five things that can be reused, five things that can be recycled, and five things that can be composted.
  3. Estimate the percent of household materials that you disposed of that were biodegradable and discuss how these items biodegrade. What do you do (if anything) at home and at school to reduce the amount of trash they create? Brainstorm possible ways to reduce the amount of trash that goes to the landfills and other ways to help the environment, and post these ideas to the project wiki.
  4. Find out where your garbage goes by researching what happens to the garbage in your community. You can interview an employee or spokesperson from the local department of sanitation or perhaps even tour the facility. Questions can also be asked by e-mail or information obtained from the internet. This research should aim to find out where the garbage goes, what happens to it when it gets there, if it is put to any alternate uses, total garbage amounts for their local area, and how garbage affects the environment. Students can then create reports and/or illustrated posters to display their findings. They can also propose action plans for ways to reduce the amount of garbage and better deal with the garbage that presently exists. These ideas can also be posted to the project wiki for others to read.

Interesting Facts:

  • During the Middle Ages, European city dwellers threw their garbage out the door and onto the street. The people of the time didn't understand that many diseases are caused by filthy environmental conditions.
  • In the late 1700s, a report in England finally linked disease to unsanitary waste disposal. The age of sanitation began. Cities began collecting waste to get it off the streets and out of public waterways. By the late 1800s, Europeans were even burning their waste and using the energy from it to produce electricity.
  • The situation was a little different on this side of the Atlantic. To the early colonists, America offered a seemingly endless supply of land and natural resources. So when dumping on city streets became intolerable, they simply took their waste to a dump outside of town, using the spot until it was filled before moving on to another site.
  • As America's population grew and people left the farms for life in the city, the amount of waste increased. But the method of getting rid of the waste did not; we continued to dump it.
  • Today, Americans represent roughly 5% of the world's population, but we generate 40% of its waste!
  • The average American generates four pounds of solid trash per day, for a grand total of 1,460 pounds per year. That's 1.8 pounds more trash than the average American produced in 1960.
  • Every day, we dispose of approximately 200 million tons of trash. Less than one-quarter of it is recycled, leaving the rest for land fills and incinerators.
  • By weight, paper accounts for 35 percent of the municipal solid waste (garbage that comes from homes, businesses, and schools). Plastics account for 11 percent by weight.

Can you uncover some more facts about garbage that you'd like to share? Send them to me and I'll include them on this website!


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