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Teacher’s Guide
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(1) Be a Waste Reducer!

Students will measure what they put into the solid waste stream, and then brainstorm ways to conserve resources and reduce waste.

TV/VCR, one or two large shopping bags per student, twist-ties for sealing up the bags, scale, pencil and paper.

The average American consumes 120 pounds of resources each day. For every ton of garbage that ends up in a landfill, 20 tons of raw materials were originally consumed to produce it.

Video clip:
Start at the beginning of the video and stop video after hearing: “...The water came from the slopes of the Cascade Mountains. And the electricity came from a dam on the Columbia River. Then I enjoyed my cup of coffee.”

Ask students to carry a garbage bag around with them for 24 hours, to put every piece of trash (that they would normally toss into a garbage can) into the bag and record the item on paper. Include packaging from food prepared for the day’s meals. After 24 hours, have students weigh their bags of garbage and calculate how many pounds of waste they would throw away in a year if they continued to consume at the same rate.

Discussion Options:

(a) Discuss the contents of the bags. What items could be eliminated by shopping more carefully for products with less packaging? How much is food waste? What about the bag itself? For an interesting look at the EPA “Pay As You Throw” programs, see

(b) Discuss recycling. Is recycling the only way...or the best way to conserve resources? Visit the library or search the Web for more information.

(c) Discuss buying products made from recycled materials. Where can you find them ? How do you know that goods are made from recycled materials ? For information on recycled aluminum products, see For information on uses for recycled plastic, see

(d) Discuss the concept of each person’s “ecological wake” as defined by Alan Durning in Escape from Affluenza. Ask students to map the ecological wake of a product they use every day.

(e) Discuss what happens to garbage in the landfill. Do items in a landfill decompose? If not, what happens to the materials in a landfill? To see a cross-section of a landfill, see To see photos of the capping of landfill cells, see

Field Trip:
Visit a landfill or solid waste transfer station.

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