School Projects And Ideas For Students
The following are some ideas to help schools go trash-free, including student art, writing, and science projects involving learning about garbage reduction, material reuse, recycling, and compost.
Basic Trash Reduction
Trash Sorting Awareness
- Collect one large bag or a few small bags of trash from home or school campus. Separate the litter into 3 piles, one for garbage, one for items that could have been recycled, and one for items which could have been composted (hopefully you won't need an additional 4th pile for things which could have been reused or fixed rather than discarded). Weigh and find the volume of each pile to quantify the amount of waste which could have been better disposed of. Make a poster (on recycled paper) to display near school trash cans listing commonly mis-trashed items to educate and remind the rest of the school on how to better sort their trash.
Community Recycling Awareness and Promotion
- Do a survey of people and businesses in the community to find out what percentage of the population recycles mixed paper, newspaper, plastic, metal, and glass. Prepare a short informational flyer detailing why you think recycling is important and a local recycling chart to distribute to the people and businesses that don't currently recycle.
Tracking and Reducing Trash Output - Class or Small Group Project
- 1. On Monday, equip each student and teacher with a pocket-sized pencil and paper notepad. For 4 days, each person writes down every little thing they throw in the trash, both at school and at home. 2. On Friday, students gather as a class or small group for a two-part discussion. First everyone gets a chance to share their garbage list. Second the group brainstorms some alternative things they could have bought, items they could have avoided using, and ways they could have reused items rather than discard them, etc. 3. Over the weekend, project participants have the chance to prepare anything they might need to help them change trash-making behavior for the next week. Then Monday-Thursday are spent attempting to use the brainstormed trash alternatives and again keeping lists of anything thrown out. 4. On Friday, the groups reconvene to share their reduced trash lists and discuss the successes and failures of their 4 days of trash reduction efforts. It's important to discuss why some things were easier to change than others. Note: This project could be expanded to include documenting recycling and composting, or compressed into a shorter project by spending only a day or two documenting.
Brainstorming and Presenting Trash Alternatives - Small Group or Individual Project
- Gather bags from cafeteria and/or other non-bathroom campus trash cans. Empty out the bags onto old newspaper or any protected surface and have students pick through the trash (wearing gloves), documenting what they find. Then brainstorm possible ways someone could have avoided making each kind of trash, by modifying their buying habits, by reuse, or by avoiding using disposable materials, etc. After brainstorming, they can present their garbage alternative suggestions to the rest of the student body or class.
Infrastructure Improvement Projects
- Designate space for dual-tier recycling for paper in areas of the school which create large or blank-sided waste paper (computer rooms, art rooms) so that larger pieces can be reused and scrap pieces can be recycled. Talk to teachers about allowing essays and reports to be printed on the back sides of previously used paper. Post directions for students about how to correctly load a printer with reusable paper - which drawer to open, which side up the paper should go in, etc. Encourage art classes to reuse paper for all drafts and perhaps some final projects, depending on the materials.
- Build a compost system outside near the cafeteria and provide clearly labeled collection bins for non-meat food scraps from student lunches and cafeteria cooking waste. Place one each, conveniently located, for cooking staff and for students. The scraps bin accessible to the general student body should be small and of a unique shape and color so that it doesn't look like somewhere to dump trash, and it should also be placed very conveniently next to a main cafeteria trash can so students with a lot of other things on their minds can easily sort their lunch waste without really thinking about it or making a mess. For more information about composting in schools visit Composting in Schools. The site has many helpful pages, including schematics for outdoor composting and ideas for related student science projects
Paper Towel Use Habits
- Design and post official signs near paper towel dispensers in restrooms reminding people that using one paper towel is sufficient
Back to Nature
- Find a little-used corner of campus and relandscape it with native plants appropriate for the specific location and micro-climate. Try to choose plants that will provide food, shelter, and nesting security for native birds, mammals, and insects you want to attract.
- Divide the school grounds into sections, and assign each class the task of keeping one area litter free. Give the most difficult areas to older grade levels. Have weekly competitions with the prize going to the class who's section was the cleanest. Rewards for winning should not themselves be anything that produces garbage (special priveleges can work well as rewards).
- Find out if mixing compost into soil helps plants grow stronger and healthier. Collect multiple seeds from several species of fast-growing plants. Plant half of the seeds of each species in regular potting soil and the other half in the same kind of soil which has had compost mixed into it. Grow the plants under conditions of equal light, heat, and water exposure. When the seedlings are all well established, compare the height, stem thickness, and root structure of the plants.
- Research a product's history and future - material sources, manufacturing, transportation, use, potential reuse or recycling, decomposition properties - example products: piece of paper, plastic bag, toothbrush, can of coke, loaf of bread, compact disc, water bottle
- Compare decomposition processes required to break down organics, plastics, metals, chemicals
- Research recyclability of different materials - paper, plastic, glass, metal, styrofoam - potentially concluding with a presentation to the rest of the student body using physical examples of the different types of products within each material category (for example, showing the difference between #1 and #5 plastics)
- Study the processes in a school compost bin - for several ideas visit Research Ideas provided by Cornell University.
- Compare the durability of paper made from recycled and virgin materials. For a fair trial, test paper made with different percentages of recycled content by the same manufacturer, then repeat the test with other manufacturers - Some paper companies may use a better technique for bonding fibers or may source their recycled content from paper that originally has shorter or longer fibers.
- Set up a still to recycle fermented organic waste (from cafeteria garbage or at home) into a grade of ethyl alcohol that could be used as a fuel to offset some of a building's energy needs.
Food and Cooking Projects
- Inventory the packaged foods available for purchase at school and research alternatives that can be bought in bulk or don't come individually wrapped
- Cook snack food substitutes for snacks that usually come individually wrapped
Recipes for granola bars (use rice crispies and mini chocolate chips for desert-type snacks or oats, dried fruits and nuts for healthier bars)
- Easy granola bars
- Chewy granola bars
Recipes for candy
- Lollipops—This recipe needs modification to actually be trash-free, try pouring mixture into greased mini ice cube tray to make small candies instead of lollipops, and store them in tins after dusting them with confectioners' sugar rather than rolling them in plastic
- Butterscotch candy
- Create "found art" pieces only using items that can no longer be used for their original purpose
- Make instruments out of salvaged parts of old, broken items - bikes, computers, toys, bottles and cans, construction materials, clothing, non-recyclable metal and plastic lids
- Paper-making using pre-used scrap paper or old newspapers
- Painting assignment using only paint from containers which are mostly empty - encourages creativity for finding ways to make something interesting with the less popular colors and saves paints from being wasted by drying inside the container
- Calculate the school's current waste output - measure approximate volumes of the campus trash cans, interview maintenance staff to find out how full they get and how often they get emptied
- Inventory the number and size of foods sold individual wrapped on campus and calculate how many square feet of wrappers are currently available for purchase
- Compare the amount of packaging materials used for food or other things that you can buy both in bulk and in more convenient packages. Measure the volume or weight to package surface area of different products or foods. Take into account that some package types may have multiple layers of packaging, may use plastic within paper packaging, or may hide significant volumes of air.
- Find an area of the school campus which has a lot of litter and an easily accessible trash can. After discussing trash safety and while wearing gloves, pick up all the litter in that area. Separate and count the different types of trash, and make a graph to show the data. Do the same for a bag of trash pulled from a garbage bin located in the same area as the litter pickup. Compare the graphs and discuss why you think some types of garbage are more likely to end up as litter. Then brainstorm and implement a plan to make it easier or more compelling for people to correctly dispose of all trash.
Writing and History Projects
- Compose letters to local politicians requesting improved recycling facilities and recycling education for the general public
- Research the evolution of waste management practices in your city, region, or country over the last 100 years
- Research resource use by pre-industrial civilizations to study the creative ways they efficiently used all parts of plants and animals. Then present a few modern day examples of how you think we could better use our resources (ex: saving nut shells for use as garden mulch, packing material, or art projects; or reusing glass jars for food storage or portable drinking cups).
- Write a poem or short story about what inspires you to want to be less wastefull.
- Write a science fiction story about a future with no trash - be sure to explain in which ways the people of the future live differently so they don't end up making garbage.
- Learn how to patch holes in pants, darn sweaters and socks, and securely reattach buttons and backpack straps
- Make a quilt or shoulder bag out of worn-out jeans or other clothing
- Tour a recycling facility
- Tour a waste water treatment facility
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