Sunday, October 31, 2010

Talkin’ Trash

According to the EPA, the average American produces about four and a half pounds of trash each day, which amounts to a whopping 1,600 pounds per person annually. That figure does not include industrial waste or commercial trash – operations that produce much, much more trash than consumers.

Sometimes it’s difficult for students to conceptualize just how large these numbers really are. It helps, then, to use graphic examples when describing the problem. For example, according to WM Recycle America, each year Americans throw away enough aluminum to completely duplicate the full United States commercial air fleet. That’s a lot of soda cans! The same organization says that Americans toss enough glass each month to fill up a skyscraper. Examples such as these that are easy to visualize can really help to drive the point home for students of all ages.

Fortunately, Americans and many other countries have become much more conscientious about the waste we produce and how we can recycle materials instead of burying or incinerating them. Many schools have introduced their own recycling programs, and you can view many of their initiatives on YouTube or TeacherTube. Some popular measures include reducing or eliminating the number of days that the cafeteria uses foam food trays, refilling printer ink cartridges instead of throwing away used ones, and setting up paper recycling stations and bins throughout the school. There are many online guides and handbooks on establishing school recycling programs, some of which we’ll be featuring on our Facebook and Twitter pages this week; perhaps you’ll find something that inspires you to take greater steps towards establishing a “greener” school or community.

My picks this week focus on the trash or waste we produce, and how we can better reuse, recycle, or repurpose items to reduce the amount of garbage dumped into landfills or incinerated into the air we breathe. Students are naturally passionate about the Earth and “doing the right thing,” and the resources below offer some fascinating insights into trash, recycling, and human ingenuity.

Garbage Dreams
Subjects: Ecology, Economics
Grade: 6-12
In Cairo, the Zaballeen people survive by collecting and recycling trash; they recycle over 80% of the garbage they collect. In this online game, students take on the role of the Zaballeen, where they virtually sort, process, and profit from the garbage collected from Cairo’s neighborhoods. I like that this game takes the economic considerations of recycling into account as well as the obvious ecological benefits. To effectively grow their businesses, players can invest in various types of recycling equipment, which may or may not pay off. If they manage their businesses well, they can buy extra trucks, expand into wealthier neighborhoods, and perhaps hire additional workers to help in their recycling efforts. “Garbage Dreams” is produced by PBS as a supporting activity to their documentary of the same name. The game is aligned to national education standards.

Activity #2: My Water is Gray Water
Subjects: Ecology, Math
Grade: 5-8
In this activity, students determine the average amount of water they use during a typical shower and the concentration of soap in that water. The students learn the need to recycle gray water to allow plants, animals, and humans to survive in space. This activity was produced by NASA Quest, an educational initiative by NASA to provide educators, students, and space enthusiasts with information and activities that apply to real-world challenges faced by NASA’s space program.

The Rotten Truth About Garbage
Subjects: Ecology, Social studies
Grade K-8
This site takes an in-depth look at the complex issues surrounding municipal solid waste. This online exhibition is organized into four major sections: What Is Garbage?, There's No "Away", Nature Recycles, and Making Choices. The exhibit also includes numerous activities for students, ranging from oral history projects to trash audits. This resource was developed by the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), an organization of museums and science centers dedicated to furthering science education and innovation for the public.

~Joann's Picks - 10/28/2010~

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