Trash: Past, Present and Future

K, 1, 2

Students define stewardship and commit to reducing the amount of trash they contribute to the world. Students talk to older family members about trash and recycling memories to determine if this is an old problem or a new problem.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo Forty-Five Minute Class Periods (Plus a few minutes each day for a week to monitor trash)

The learner will:

  • define stewardship as the wise use of resources.
  • describe the process that trash goes through to landfill and recycle stations.
  • measure the amount of trash produced by the class in a week.
  • interview family members about trash issues in the past.
  • make a commitment to reduce the amount of trash in the future.
  • Trash containers for the classroom
  • Construction paper
  • Star template
  • Read-aloud copies of Where Does the Garbage Go? by Paul Showers and/or Dinosaurs to the Rescue by Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Brown.
  • Bathroom scale
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework:Students interview family members to determine their views on trash and recycling over the years. See Handout One: Family Trash Interview.

  • Brown, Laurene Krasny and Marc Brown. Dinosaurs to the Rescue! Little, Brown and Company, 1994. ISBN: 0316113972

  • Showers, Paul. Where Does Garbage Go? HarperCollins Children’s Books, 1993. ISBN: 0064451143


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Tell the students that you want to cut out some stars to hang around the room. Explain how wonderful and colorful the room will look when it is done. Use one large piece of paper for each small star so you waste at least 90% of the paper. On one sheet, don’t even cut out a star, make a mistake in tracing the star and throw the whole sheet of paper away. While you are cutting, hopefully the students will object to your wastefulness. If they aren’t saying anything, ask them if they think you are doing a good job.

  2. Write the student comments on a piece of chart paper:

    1. You’re wasting paper.

    2. Cut more stars out of one sheet of paper.

    3. Save the unused paper for other projects.

  3. Tell the students that you are not being a good “steward.” Define stewardship as the wise use of resources. Tell the students that the earth does not have unlimited resources and we have to take good care of things like the air, water, trees and plants. For example, the water we drink and use is the same water the dinosaurs drank and used. Aren’t we lucky the dinosaurs used their resources wisely? Should we use resources wisely for people and animals in the future? Remind the students that it is everyone’s responsibility to take care of the environment for the common good.

    • Read Where Does the Garbage Go? by Paul Showers and/or Dinosaurs to the Rescue by Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Brown. Discuss the main idea from the book(s). Have students name the process that garbage goes through. Write the steps on chart paper.

    • Ask the students if they think trash has been a problem for a long time. How long has it been a problem? When their parents were young? When their grandparents were young? When the colonists were settling? When the Native Americans were the only people here? Listen to their predictions and challenge them to find out by talking to their family members of different generations. See Handout One: Family Trash Interview.

    • Explain to them that the class is going to see how much trash it produces in one week. At the end of the week they will weigh the bags of trash. (As an alternative, weigh the trash each day and add the amount of trash from day to day.) Bring the classroom trash container to the lunch room so that trash is included in the total amount of trash produced in a week. Since food garbage will get smelly, weigh that garbage and let the custodian take it away each day.

  4. Day Two:

  5. At the end of the week, look at the trash collected. Ask students to propose ways to reduce classroom garbage: using the backs of papers before throwing away, make a box available for colored paper scraps, recycling, reusing containers and other things for art projects or storage.

    • Weigh or calculate the week’s garbage. The teacher can multiply that by the number of classrooms to get the total amount the school produces in a week. Calculate how much garbage the school produces in a year. Discuss where that garbage goes. Lead the students to recognize that they produce a lot of trash that becomes an issue for the environment.

    • Tell the students that they have an opportunity to be philanthropists (review the definition of philanthropy): students make a personal commitment to reduce the amount of garbage they produce. Help them write personal goals on paper such as I will use the backs of all papers. I will recycle at home. I will teach others about the importance of being stewards for the environment.

    • When the students return their homework, discuss the answers from the interviews.


Evaluate students’ written commitment to reducing trash. Did they make a personal and manageable commitment?

Cross Curriculum 

Students measure the amount of trash they produce in a week. They calculate the effect that has on the earth over time. Students make a commitment to reduce the amount of trash they produce.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define philanthropy as the giving and sharing of time, talent, or treasure intended for the common good.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.6 Explain why acting philanthropically is good for the community, state, nation, or world.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.4 Demonstrate listening skills.
    2. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.5 Recognize the wise use of resources as <i>stewardship</i>.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.4 Give an example of how citizens act for the common good.
      2. Benchmark E.5 Give examples of actions students can take to improve the common good and list or describe responsibilities that go with those actions.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark E.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
    2. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark E.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities, and research.