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The Weight of Waste

The Weight of Waste

Essential questions: 
What is the difference between how wastes are managed in nature versus by humans?
How can you apply the 5Rs to manage your waste production?
Why do electronics cause concern for waste management?
Can you relate to NIMBY attitudes? (In other words, would you want an incinerator built near your house?)
How is “designed for the dump” thinking harming our society?
What are some options for reducing e-waste?
How does considering the negative waste implications of plastic bottles provide perspective about a larger waste management issue?
How can thinking like a designer help with waste management issues?
In your household, what are some products that are commonly thrown away or placed in recycling? How might you repurpose those products to upcycle them into something you or your family could use?
Why are many consumer societies referred to as “throwaway societies”?

MODULE OVERVIEW: Estimated total time needed: 6.5 class sessions

Lesson 1: Eco-101: 101 Fundamentals: Waste (One 55-minute class period)
The purpose of this lesson is to help students understand why waste management is a critical issue for a sustainable future. Students learn fundamental principles of waste management, including how human habits and products are not always in harmony with Earth’s natural processes. They also learn about the typical ways waste is processed, such as via landfills, incineration, and recycling. Students see that nations with more pronounced consumer behaviors are the nations that produce the most waste. They also explore how social attitudes can impact what we buy, what happens to those products when they become waste, and what our options are for moving to a more sustainable, zero-waste practice.

Lesson 2: Eco-101: The Story of Electronics (Two 55-minute class periods)
In this lesson, students explore e-waste from a personal perspective. They personify a mobile phone and write its biography, exploring its birth, relatives, life cycle, and eventual end. Along the way, they explore the concept of planned obsolescence and the idea of “designed for the dump,” as well as NIMBY attitudes. Students also have access to numerous Extend ideas that will get them thinking about exciting innovations and new, more sustainable ways of thinking about electronics.

Lesson 3: Eco-Activity: Plastic Bottle Planter (One 55-minute class period)
The purpose of this lesson is both to expose students to a meaningful, practical way to reuse a common waste product and to raise awareness of the overuse of disposable water bottles. The simple act of converting a disposable bottle into a small desktop planter allows students to express themselves in a unique way. It also serves as a friendly point of entry for students who may be intimidated by the notion of collecting, sorting, and reusing trash. The end product also makes a great gift for teachers and staff!

Lesson 4: Eco-Action: Upcycling Competition (Two 55-minute class periods and one 20-minute class period)
In this lesson, students explore the concept of upcycling and how it represents a positive and sustainable way of thinking about waste management. They also consider the role of consumerism in modern society and how consumer behaviors impact the environment. Students are challenged to apply the principles of upcycling to build a product out of waste materials, and they compete in a friendly competition to see whose product is the most creative and functional.