Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – How Long Does Trash Last?

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Students learn how long trash lasts in landfills in this cooperative activity.

Objectives: Students will learn about environmental consequence of not recycling. They will work together in groups to formulate their best estimate of how long some trash items might last in a landfill.

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Materials Needed: aluminum cans, banana, cigarette butt, cotton rag, glass bottle, leather boot, paper bag, plastic 6-pack rings, plastic jug, rubber sole of the leather boot, Styrofoam cup, tin soup can, wool sock

1. Display the materials you have collected. Provide a chart and point out that all the items will likely end up in a landfill. Ask them questions. What will happen to them when they end up in the landfill? How long do you think they will last there? Do they disappear/disintegrate/degrade immediately” Or will they take up space in the landfill?

2. Let the students discuss these questions if they are old enough. At the end, inform them of the correct sequence; banana, paper bag, cotton rag, wool sock, cigarette butt, leather boot, rubber sole of the boot, tin soup can, aluminum can, plastic 6-pack rings, plastic jug, Styrofoam cup, glass bottle.

3. Now that they know the correct order, ask them how long they think they will last. After discussion, give the scientists' approximations; banana (3 to 4 weeks), paper bag (1 month), cotton rag (5 months), wool sock (1 year), cigarette butt (2 to 5 years), leather boot (40 to 50 years), rubber sole of the boot (50 to 80 years), tin soup can (80 to 100 years), aluminum can (200 to 500 years), plastic 6-pack rings (450 years), plastic jug (1 million years), Styrofoam cup (unknown? forever?), glass bottle (unknown? forever?).

Source: Education World

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