Garbology by Joshua and Sean
We live in Birmingham, Alabama. We know that three ways to eliminate pollution are to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Our teachers are always encouraging us to recycle used paper, but we wanted to investigate more about the other two Rs, reduce and reuse. We got some great ideas from the Southern Environmental Center in Birmingham. We decided to do a study of our own right here at school. Our question: what kind of waste is our school producing, and how can we reduce it?
What did we do?
Firs we put on our science safety gear—goggles, masks, and gloves—to go dumpster diving in the school trash bin. We couldn’t believe all the waste we saw that was actually recyclable. So we decided to collect trash from 10 classrooms for a single day, just to demonstrate how much waste at our school could be recycled instead of thrown into the dumpster. We weighed the trash and then sorted it into piles of metal, paper, glass, plastic, and true trash (which can’t be recycled). We weighed each category individually to figure out the percentage of each kind of material.
What did we find out?
We made pie chart art and the data was astonishing! We learned that 86% of the trash from these 10 classrooms was recyclable. When we examined the 14% that was true trash, we discovered that some of this material, such as a perfectly good pencil, could be reused. So we decided to look into starting a recycling program for our school. But first, we took a field trip to the recycling center for the city of Birmingham. There we found out that aluminum can be recycled indefinitely and paper up to seven times before it truly is trash. In the end, our garbology investigation made us realize that the 3 Rs really make sense!
What can you do?
- Many schools have recycling programs, and recycling is good, but sometimes it’s better not to produce the trash in the first place. In order to know what it is you want to reduce, you first need to know what you’re producing. Design a method for collecting, sorting, and measuring the kinds of waste your school produces. Choose categories for sorting. Once you determine what kind of trash your school makes the most of, come up with ways to reduce the amount. Write your ideas in your notebook.
- One clever way to reuse unwanted items is to turn them into something useful, even beautiful! Do research on how to turn old items into art. Sometimes this is called “found art”, meaning, you find objects sitting around, collect them, and make artworks out of them. The physical properties of the material can help determine how you fasten the objects together, or how durable the artwork will be.
- Another kind of waste material that can be recycled is yard waste, that is, leaves and grass clippings. Instead of putting yard waste into bags and hauling it away, work with your school to do yard clean up activities in the fall, compost them in bins, and then plant a school garden in the spring, using the compost to nourish the garden. Keep track of the number of bags of leaves you collect in the fall, and compare to the volume of compost you get out of the bins in the spring.