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Essay Topics For Middle School Recycling Project

Reduce, reuse, recycle is a phrase that many of us have learned when we were in school. Now we can incorporate these principles into the classroom to pass it on to the next generation. These activities can help students explore how to put this phrase to use in many different ways.

You can give “reduce, reuse, recycle” a whole new meaning by incorporating this concept into many subject areas. Many of these hands-on project ideas can be adapted for any grade level.

1. Observe how organic and inorganic materials decompose

It’s important to teach students why they should reduce, reuse, recycle. A hands-on activity that shows how different kinds of materials decompose will help bring the concept to life.

As a class, choose a few different kinds of organic and inorganic materials to observe. Have students predict how long it will take for each item to decompose and keep a journal of their observations (here’s one example). Younger students can make drawings of the materials and older students can write more detailed descriptions of what they observe.

The goal of this lesson is to show that only the organic material decomposes quickly – inorganic materials will sit around in landfills for a long time. Fortunately, many of these materials are easy to recycle.

Subjects: Science, language arts

 

2. Start a composting project

Composting is one way to reuse organic material that may otherwise may end up in a landfill.

This project can be done on a small scale inside the classroom or on school grounds, or you can make it an integral part of how your school works. Use this hands-on project as a way to introduce concepts about how organic materials decompose. This is another journaling opportunity for students as they observe how your compost project changes over time.

Subjects: Science, language arts

 

3. Make your own paper

One of the best ways to understand how recycling works is to do it yourself! Making your own paper using scraps requires a few materials and preparation for this activity to run smoothly in the classroom. You can use a guide like this one for step-by-step instructions, or this free activity Make Your Own Paper from Project Learning Tree’s PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide.Watch a video of the paper-making process used in this activity.

Subject: Art

 

4. Calculate your impact

We all want to feel like we’re contributing to something bigger than ourselves and that we’re making a difference. If we reduce our consumption, it’s helpful to know what kind of impact it can make. Here are some questions and ideas to consider:

  • Calculate how much trash they generate in a day, week, month, and year.
  • Calculate how much trash their family, the school, their city or town, and their state generates per year.
  • What are some ways they could reduce their CO2 emissions? Calculate how much it would reduce their emissions if their family used public transportation to go to school and work, used energy-efficient lightbulbs in their house, switched to a vegetarian or vegan diet, etc.
  • If they reduced their CO2 emissions by 1/3, how much would CO2 would they produce? How much CO2 would they save?

For younger students, you can put together age-appropriate word problems. These estimates of CO2 emissions and this information about how much trash Americans produce can provide some numbers to start with.  For older students, it could be a project of its own by having them conduct research on the different scenarios you propose.

Subject: Math

 

5. Home energy audit

Have students make a list of all the appliances and light bulbs in their house. How much energy does their house use if all the lights are on for 4 hours per day? If their appliances are on for 2 hours per day? How much energy could they save if they switched to energy-efficient appliances or lightbulbs?

For younger students, you can provide estimates of how much energy household appliances use to simplify the project. For older students, you may want to show them how to use a watt meter so they can measure their own energy use.

For more energy-saving ideas and instruction, see PLT’s Energy Investigation and our Save Energy At Home list of questions for students and their families.

Subjects: Math, science with an engineering component

 

6. Local business energy audit

You can take your home energy audit project to the community level by researching energy use of a local business. Find out how much trash they generate and/or how many appliances they use daily. Are there any opportunities for them to reduce their trash or CO2 emissions? If so, how many trees could they save or how much trash or CO2 emissions could be reduced? For a simpler project, provide estimates of how much trash they produce or CO2 emissions they generate for a few local businesses. Older students can call or visit a local business to do an energy audit by gathering their own information.

Subjects: Math, science with an engineering component

7. Write proposals to companies and lawmakers

Many times when we talk about reduce, reuse, recycle, it’s focused on individual actions. We encourage students to practice this at home with their family. However, the biggest contributor to climate change is industrial activities – not “human” activities like using your wash machine or turning on your stove. By connecting with local businesses or lawmakers, they could potentially make a bigger impact on reducing CO2 emissions. For example, this second-grader convinced fast food chains to use more recycled paper products.

Have students find a local business or lawmaker they’d like to influence. Have them write a letter asking them to take an action to reduce their CO2 emissions such as using more recycled materials, composting their organic waste, or supporting a law that will protect local forests. Help students think about who would be the best person to receive the letter, which action they want the business or lawmaker to take and reasons why that action is important.

For younger students, you may want to choose one business or lawmaker to write to as a class. Older students may be able to do their own research on a company or lawmaker they would like to influence. In addition to writing a letter, older students could also craft a short speech on the topic and present it to the class.

Subjects: Language arts, civics

8. Interview family members

Parents and grandparents may have different experiences with reducing, reusing, and recycling than your students. A lot of things can change over the span of just a generation or two!

Have your students interview older family members. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Were they taught about reducing, reusing, and recycling when they were younger?
  • If they recycle, why do they do it? Where did they learn to recycle? If they don’t, why not?
  • How do they reduce, reuse, and recycle at their workplace? If they don’t practice this at work, what are some ideas they might have to reduce, reuse, or recycle things at work?
  • Have they seen people reduce, reuse, and recycle more or less over the course of their lifetime? Why?
  • How do they reduce or reuse things around the house? How did their parents or grandparents reduce or reuse things around the house?
  • Do they know how to repair furniture, electronics, clothing, or anything else around the house? If so, how did they learn how to do this? Why do they do it – for fun, to save money, because they care about the environment, or for some other reason?

Older students can also come up with their own questions. You could incorporate a technology component and have them put a PowerPoint together with information they gathered from their interviews.

You could take this project a step further and have students put together a timeline of their own experiences, along with those of their parents and grandparents. Students could include important points in history related to the stories on their timeline. For example, let’s say their parents or grandparents talk about when plastic bags started becoming popular at grocery stores during the interview. The student could research when plastic bags started being used, and when they started being banned in some states and put those dates on the timeline.

Subjects: Language arts, with an optional art and/or technology component

9. Use recycled materials in art projects

Recycled materials can make beautiful art projects such as jewelry, planters, and bird houses. Incorporating materials that would otherwise be thrown away into art projects can show your students how to find new uses for these items. Check out this Pinterest board for some ideas to get started.

Subjects: Art

 

10. Life cycle analysis

One way to show students what happens when you put something in the trash versus recycling or reusing the object is to do a life cycle analysis. This is a flow chart that shows the environmental impacts of an object, from extracting the raw materials to decomposition and everything in between. When something is put in the trash instead of being reused or recycled, the life cycle assessment will show a bigger environmental impact. When something is reused or recycled, the environmental impact is less because raw materials don’t need to be extracted to create something new.

With younger students, you may want to review a very simple life cycle analysis as a class. Older students may be able to do their own research on how materials are extracted, manufactured, distributed, and disposed. You could incorporate a technology component by having them create a flow chart of their life cycle analysis.

You may want to start with this Tree Life Cycle activity, which could segue into the life cycle analysis of paper products.

Subjects: Science, with an optional technology component

 

11. Research project

Older students can conduct a research project and present their findings in a paper or presentation. You can incorporate a technology component by having students prepare their presentation in Prezi or PowerPoint. Here are some ideas:

  • Research an organization that help the community reduce, reuse, or recycle in some way. What services do they provide? How do they help reduce our environmental impact?
  • What are some ways we can repair or reuse items instead of throwing them away?
  • What are some important moments in history related to reducing, reusing, and recycling? For example, laws, practices, or inventions.
  • How do other countries around the world reduce, reuse, or recycle?

Subjects: History, social studies, with an optional technology component

 

What kinds of projects have you done with your students to teach them how to reduce, reuse, recycle? Share your ideas in the comments!

Rebecca Reynandez is a Marketing and Communications Consultant and Principal of Spring Media Strategies, LLC. She has worked with nonprofits for the past 10 years and currently focuses on working with environmental organizations. She is based in Minneapolis, MN.
Early Childhood,Elementary (3-5),Elementary (K-2),High School (9-12),Middle (6-8),Tips for Getting Started,Tips for Greening Schools

All Grades

Field Trip to Sims Municipal Recycling (Grades 3-8)
Want to show your class or green team where the metal, glass, plastic, and cartons recycled in NYC are sent? Schedule a free tour of the brand new Sims Municipal Recycling facility in Sunset Park, Brooklyn! Seeing is believing, and your students won’t forget this incredible experience.

Recycling Class Contract
An agreement that students and parents sign. Students pledge to study the environment, and parents sign to say they will cooperate with green homework tasks, such as a recycling journal. Created by the Academy of Urban Planning, Brooklyn.

NYC Department of Sanitation (Grades K-12)
Order the free NYC Teacher's RRResource Guide, developed with the NYC Department of Edcuation, and RRR comic books developed with Marvel comics.

Grades 3-7

At Home Chose to Reduce Project
Students chose one thing to reduce at home each week and write journal entries about their successes and challenges implementing the change.  In class, they form groups and create "Do You Know?" posters.

Lesson Plan: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Students learn the meaning of Recycling, Reducing and Reusing through analytical reading and construct an object out of recycled materials.  The scientific method is used to write the step-by-step process. Created by PS/IS 308, Brooklyn. 

High School

Green Design Project
Students pretend they are architects, and come up with a series of design changes to make their school more environmentally friendly. They then grade their projects according to a rubric.
Created by Frances Perkins Academy, Brooklyn.

Advocacy Action Kit
This kit is designed to channel student efforts into creating a customized recycling campaign for your middle or high school. The kit's sections are divided into multiple weeks and can be adapted to accommodate time constraints and needs of your school.

Green Teams

Student Recycling Script
A presentation for Green Team Club members to introduce themselves and the purpose of their club. They explain how to use their new recycling bins, in the classroom and in the cafeteria.
Created by P.S. 16 Staten Island.

Waste Audit Guide
Ever wonder what's in your school's waste? This hands-on activity helps students assess their school's waste in order to think of ways to reduce it. The results can be incorporated into the school's recycling plan, or even into lessons and activities.

Recycling Rating Chart
Green Team members go around the school and rate the success of the recycling program. They do a survey by classroom to ensure each has bins, and rate the level of contamination.

Advocacy Action Kit
This kit is designed to channel a green team, club, or classes' efforts into creating a customized recycling campaign for your middle or high school. The kit's sections are divided into multiple weeks and can be adapted to accommodate time constraints and needs of your school.

Upcycled Milk Carton Craft (Grades 2-5)
Have fun teaching students about recycling and upcycling by turning an empty milk carton into a coin wallet! This instruction sheet takes you through the step by step process to make this fun craft.

Recycling Fact Assigment(Grades 1-5)
Sustainability coordinator at P.S. 101 Queens introduced a homework assignment that encouraged students to gather information about recycling. The document can be printed on letter size paper and cut into strips. Each student is given a strip and a week to complete the assignment. A week later each student picked one fact to read aloud along with their solution. The students' facts will be considered for morning announcements to the whole school! 

For Classrooms

All Grades

HEART: Promoting Humane Education (Grades PK-12)
A great listing of free, downloadable lesson plans on issues ranging from recycling and pollution to energy, and environmental choices.

America Recycles Day (Grades K-12)
Take a recycling pledge, find an event, or download materials to help your school organize and celebrate this awesome day.

NBC Learn (Grades K-12)
Through a partnership with the National Science Foundation, teachers and students can have access to a variety of climate science and recycling related videos and NBS news archives.

NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (Grades K-12)
Information on education camps, centers, and programs.  Actitivies for students and lesson plans for teachers on wildlife, insects, recycling, conservation, and more.

Steel Recycling Institute (Grades PK-12)
With a focus on recycling, solid waste and natural resource management, you'll find a variety of lesson plans, worksheets, and hands-on activities. 

Elementary School 

Upcycled Milk Carton Craft (Grades 2-5)
Have fun teaching students about recycling and upcycling by turning an empty milk carton into a coin wallet! This instruction sheet takes you through the step by step process to make this fun craft.

Recycling Fact Assigment(Grades 1-5)
Sustainability coordinator at P.S. 101 Queens introduced a homework assignment that encouraged students to gather information about recycling. The document can be printed on letter size paper and cut into strips. Each student is given a strip and a week to complete the assignment. A week later each student picked one fact to read aloud along with their solution. The students' facts will be considered for morning announcements to the whole school!

Garbology Kids (Grades PK-5)
Where do recyclable materials go?  What happens to trash?  Teachers, parents, and students can learn more and have fun through this great book series.

Marcal
A local company that makes recycled paper household products!  Download Marcal's free lesson plans on recycling, trees, and deforestation which meet a variety of education standards.

NYC Department of Sanitation (Grades K-12)
Order the free NYC Teacher's RRResource Guide, developed with the NYC Department of Edcuation, and RRR comic books developed with Marvel comics. 

Elementary and Middle School

Streets Education (Grades PK-8)
Use the streets around your school to actively engage students on the transportation and environmental issues facing NYC's urban environment.

Middle and High School

PBS Presents: Garbage Dreams (Grades 4-12)
In Cairo, the Zabelleen people survive by collecting and recycling garbage.  In a fun online game for students, take on the role of the Zaballeen.  You have eight months to build your recycling empire and get Cairo’s total recycling as high as you can.

Gothamist Neighborhood Trash Map (Grades 6-12)
How well do different NYC neighborhoods do on recycling? Compare refuse and recycling of an average person from each district with this interactive map. Then, students can study is in NYC’s waste stream, and how to recycle even more. 

US EPA: A Student's Guide to Global Climate Change (Grade 4-12)
A wealth of materials for teachers and students to develop an increased knowledge of solid waste issues as they relate to climate change, and take action! 

No Impact Project (Grades 6-12)
With the film No Impact Man as a guide, students can explore the impact of their everyday behavior on the environment and their well-being, by looking at transportation, consumption, energy, food, and water. 

High School

Alliance For Climate Education (ACE)
How do we measure climate change?  What activities contribute to climate change?  Explore these topics and more with free lesson plans from ACE.  If your school is hosting an ACE assembly then download accompanying lesson plans for before or after the assembly.

Trashed Lesson Plan Package (Grades 8-12)
Comprehensive lesson plans to accompany Trashed, a 60-minute movie on the story of “garbage…American style”.   

Arts and Crafts

All Grades

Materials for the Arts
Materials for the Arts gathers supplies from companies and individuals that no longer need them and redistributes them to educators who can reuse them. 

RePlayGround
Looking for a green design or art project?  Everyday recylables and trash can be upcycled into functional products and art.  Downlaod DIY projects for the classroom or invite RePlayGround to your event! 

Skraptacular
Skraptacular offers unique children's programs based on recycling education for a greener world. Turnkey curriculum invites children of all ages to take an active role in saving the environment and reducing waste, all while having fun.

The Imagination Factory
There's no machinery at The Imagination Factory, and smokestacks don't pollute the air. Instead, we teach children and their caregivers creative ways to recycle by making art.

American Forest & Paper Association (Grades 3-6)
Download a free mini recycling poster created by AF&PA and Scholastic along with three easy lessons covering math, science, and language arts. There is also a short video demonstrating how to make your own paper in class.

Turtle Bank (Grades 2-7)
Save your pennies with this recycled turtle bank. Students turn a plastic salad container into a work of art with this fun lesson plan from National Wildlife Federation Kids.

Plastic Bag Friendship Bracelets
Most people usually think of plastic bags as unsightly. With this project, you can make friendship bracelets that are beautiful, don’t cost a dime, and are helping the environment! This is a great activity for students to watch with the film, Bag It.

Upcycled Milk Carton Craft (Grades 2-5)
Have fun teaching students about recycling and upcycling by turning an empty milk carton into a coin wallet! This instruction sheet takes you through the step by step process to make this fun craft.

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