LOGO - Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center_Community Outreach and Education Program
NAV - image map, left side navigation tool
NAV - image map, top of page navigation tool

Understanding Garbage and Our Environment
(5-8 grade curriculum)

Curriculum Overview:
This curriculum wants students to learn that managing garbage involves far more than taking the bags to the curb. It involves science, technology, politics, even personal values.

Key Concepts Explored in the Curriculum:

  • The environmental and human health of a community depends on effective waste management.
  • Waste management begins with reduction of waste through minimization of materials used by industries and conservation by individuals.
  • Waste materials can be diverted from the waste stream and reused by the original user or others.
  • Waste materials can undergo resource recovery when recycled, composted, or used as energy sources.
  • Modern landfills are an important part of integrated waste management.
  • The challenge of effective waste management has no single solution.

Teacher Friendly Features of the Curriculum:

  • Easy to use as an entire unit, partial unit, or stand-alone activities
  • Teacher materials (background, notes)
  • Student materials (background, instructions, data tables, analysis questions, Garbage Gazette)
  • Materials are easy to obtain, inexpensive, easy to set up
  • Cross-curricular/inter-disciplinary
  • Team work, problem-solving
  • Many possible extensions

    Advertising Flyers from past workshops
    Adobe Acrobat Reader - click to download
    (In pdf format.
    Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

    Understanding Garbage

    Cluster Busters

The Text of the Curriculum:

Cover of the Text - click to purchase it!
Understanding Garbage and Our Environment
by Andrea J. Nolan, Terrific Science Press
More information

The activities in this book are designed to help students learn to make wise choices about solid waste management.

The book is divided into 8 lessons, each with several activities. Each activity contains teacher and student background information. At the end of each lesson, there are one or two Garbage Gazettes, current events articles about related topics.

Another resource is http://www.homeownersinsurance.org/

Curriculum Outline
(click the highlited links to see each lesson)

Lesson 1 - Introduction to Solid Waste

  • Trash Trouble in Tacktown, Part A – assign roles
  • Risky Business – probability and risk
  • Garbage Gazette – related jobs

Lesson 2 - Waste Characterization

  • What’s Waste – solid waste inventory
  • Garbage Gazette – garbage barge; UA archeologist

Lesson 3 - Health Concerns

Lesson 4 - Source Reduction

  • One Liter To Go – comparative packaging
  • Wrap It Up – packaging, unit price, packaging reduction
  • Garbage Gazette – packing fillers; food preservation

Lesson 5 - Reusing Materials

  • Treasures From Trash – inventions/art
  • Shrinking Crafts – shrink art
  • Garbage Gazette – houses made with used materials; food-service items

Lesson 6 - Resource Recovery

  • Not Eggsactly Decomposing – decomposition rates
  • Compost Columns – observe decomposition in action
  • Now Separate It! – sort recyclable items
  • Trash In The Newspaper – make your own paper
  • How Good Is Your Fuel? - incineration
  • Garbage Gazette – recycled materials; worms in composting

Lesson 7 - Disposal Methods

  • Design Your Own Landfill – create your own landfill
  • Believe It Can Rot – Or Not – game show
  • The Bottom Line(r) - leaching
  • Household Hazardous Waste – examine labels/inventory at home
  • Garbage Gazette – trash disposal timeline

Lesson 8 - Conclusion

  • Life Cycle Assessment – energy use and environmental impact of a product
  • Trash Trouble In Tacktown, Part B – role play town meeting
  • Garbage Gazette – myths about solid waste

Websites for Garbage-Related Topics


Marti Lindsey, Director
Community Outreach & Education Program
P.O. Box 210207
Tucson, AZ 85721
Phone: (520) 626-3692
Fax: (520) 626-4468

Debbie Gevirtzman, Outreach Education Corrdinator
Environmental Education Exchange
738 N. 5th Avenue, Suite 100
Tucson, AZ 85705
Phone: (520) 670-1442
Fax: (520) 670-1443


This workshop is part of a national curriculum dissemination through teacher professional development initiative. Workshops are held in conjunction with the Environmental Health Sciences Training and Education Program (EH-STEP) supported by the National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health, under the Science Education Partnership Award Program (Grant No. R25 RR15621).

Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center
University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, Room 244
PO Box 210207, Tucson, AZ, USA 85721-0207

Funded by NIEHS grant # ES06694

1996-2004, The University of Arizona
Last update: March 10, 2011
Page Content: Stephanie Nardei
Webmaster: Stephanie Nardei