These brief activity ideas can be adapted into more fulsome activities to guide learner inquiry.
Core Question: What is in your garbage?
Overview: Garbology is the study of the garbage we create. You can explore the contents of a garbage can after a week (or the layers of a landfill after a decade to see longer-term trends). If you investigated your garbage 30 years from now, what would you find? How would it be different than your garbage today? Imagine it’s the year 2050. Write a summary of what garbologists would find in your garbage and what conclusions they would draw from it. In 2050, how would your garbage be different than today? How would recycling and composting initiatives of the early 21st century affect the garbologists’ findings? As a garbologist in the future, write a story about what life was like in 2020.
Home Garbage Survey
Core Question: What makes up our garbage at home?
Overview: Create a plan to conduct a waste survey (or audit) to measure the amount and types of waste generated at your home. Brainstorm a list of waste categories (e.g. paper, plastic, metal, glass, food scraps, yard waste) and make a plan to measure them for one week. When ready, share your results at school and compare your findings with others. What made up the greatest share of your garbage? What made up the least? Try to explain why you have more of one item and less of another. Why does the composition of garbage vary from family to family? How can some of these items in the garbage be reduced?
What’s Up with E-Waste?
Core Question: What is e-waste and why does it matter?
Overview: Make a list of the electronic items you bought in the last year. What materials are used to make these items? How long will you keep these items? How long will they last/work? What will happen to them when they are no longer ‘useful’ to you? Sort your list of items into the following categories:
After you have done this, discuss where most of the items end up. What are some of the pros and cons associated with each location (e.g. storage issues, recycling location, toxic waste, landfill issues)? What are some ways that more sustainable choices can be made by:
Core Question: Where do the products I use every day come from?
Overview: Choose a product or food item that you use or consume regularly. Research that product/item and explore how it is produced. What renewable and non-renewable resources were used and where did they come from? How far did it have to travel to reach you, and what kind of packaging did it come in? How much of the product and packaging are recyclable? Create a map or other visual representation that shows the source of the materials used and the journey of the product to you. Be sure to include where it will go when you have finished using it. When finished, reflect on some ways you can reduce the waste and other impacts of your consumer choices?
Landfills: The Good, Bad and Ugly
Core Question: What are the advantages and disadvantages of landfills as a waste management option?
Overview: In Metro Vancouver, the majority of our solid waste ends up in a landfill (unless it’s reusable or recyclable). Research how landfills work and create a list of pros (advantages) and cons (disadvantages) to using landfills for the disposal of our solid waste. What sort of site is required for a landfill? Why are certain items not accepted at landfills? What can a closed landfill be used for? If you had to situate a new landfill in our region, where would you put it? Why? How big would it have to be? Refer to the
Metro Vancouver Satellite Map. What are the pros and cons of landfills? Click here for information about the
Vancouver Landfill, including a video tour of this facility.
Solid Waste Management around the World
Core Question: How do other countries manage their solid waste?
Overview: Solid waste is managed differently in countries around the world. Choose a country (other than Canada) and research the amount of waste generated and how they manage solid waste in that country. What are the lifestyle differences between the two countries that might explain the different types and amounts of waste? How does each country manage their waste? Develop a comic strip or other narrative approach to outlining the similarities and differences between waste management practices.
The Past, Present and Future of Solid Waste Management?
Core Question: How has solid waste management changed over time?
Overview: People have always created waste that needs to be reused, recycled, composted or disposed of as they meet their basic needs. How did people in our region manage their solid waste 500 years ago? 100 years ago? How are we managing our solid waste today? How do you think we will manage waste 100 years from now? Create a graphic illustration of what solid waste management might look like in the future. What might a zero-waste future look like?
Recyclables Separator: A Design Thinking Challenge
Core Question: How can we separate recyclables more efficiently from our other solid waste?
Overview: We are currently recycling about 65% of our garbage in Metro Vancouver. How can we increase that amount? A resource recovery plant separates recyclable items from other solid waste. Design an invention that systematically separates metals, plastics, paper, wood, and glass that are mixed with other garbage to recover them as potential resources. The system may have hand- and/or machine-sorting components (hint: think of the properties of each item: does it float, or is it magnetic?). Create a poster or digital ‘blueprint’ of your design. Bonus: Build the invention using reusable and/or recyclable materials!
Daily Choices to Reduce my Solid Waste
Core Question: How can we reduce the amount of solid waste we produce?
Overview: Plan a visit to a local store (e.g. grocery store). While there, identify three items you regularly consume and explore the options for purchasing each. Which option includes the least amount of packaging? Which option is potentially reusable or refillable? Which is the most sustainable choice? Why are these the best choices when it comes to reducing the amount of solid waste you produce? Take photos of your best options and share them with your friends and family. What additional waste reduction choices could be offered in this store?
Finding New Life for Old Stuff
Core Question: How can I reuse more items in my life?
Overview: Choose a disposable item you use in your life (e.g. a paper napkin or plastic bag). Research what happens to that item when you throw it away. How long does it take to decompose? What impacts does it have on the environment? Bring a similar item that is reusable (e.g. a cloth napkin or bag) to class. Create a ‘reuse exchange’ with your classmates starting with these items. Expand this exchange to include other items that are potentially useful to others. Communicate about your successes with others in the community. What other types of reuse systems are available in Metro Vancouver?