There is nothing so enlightening or fun as digging through the trash.
There, now I have said it aloud.
Ask any noir detective, curious cat lady, or better yet a student who has conducted an Elemental trash audit in class. The thrill is real. It is the best part of the job for me. Excited squeals emanate down the quieted hallways of our partner schools over the remains of my household waste bin. They are hooked. Teachers suppress giggles. Principals observe in wonderment. But the students don’t mind. They know the moment my tarp is laid bare and my container dumped atop.
Trash is a revelation.
There is always something new to uncover when it comes to the wide world of waste. I have yet to find a better ice breaker for the conversation of recycling and sustainability than an audit. Here are endless opportunities for the “I had no idea?!” moments only rummaging through rubbish can bring. I am a deep believer in student-driven learning. So, color me converted every time I complete this lesson. The wheels start to turn and that’s when the questions burst forth:
- Wait that can be recycled?
- Well, what about that?
- Why not?
- What’s True Trash? Never heard of it.
- Maybe there’s another way to save it from being thrown out?
- Can we do this with our lunches?
- Why are we throwing so much away???
In examining what we deem as disposable, students begin to ask the bigger questions for themselves. How we manage trash is the new scientific frontier, a real-life puzzle to be solved. The old systems are flawed, and failing us. This next generation must come correct with ingenuity and engineering to unknot the tangle of trash and cyclical material out there in the world today.
I wanted to share some of the recycling revelations my students and I have ‘sorted out’ over the years during these harried bouts of rifling. Some may seem earth-shattering, but much of it is common sense. May these kids never stop asking and may new questions always be at the ready. Enjoy!
Fun Trash Audit Facts
- 80% of waste committed to landfills is recyclable in some capacity.
- What can be recycled—most plastics #1-7, look for the recycle sign on the item; over 35 grades of paper; metals (most popular are AL, FE, SN); glass (but it is tricky because glass is fragile and breaks into shards)
- What cannot be recycled and why—true trash, things that are contaminated with oils, or from processing, biohazards, or toxins; items that cannot be reused or remade in some way
- What can be reclaimed but through different methods—food and plant waste/composting, natural fiber/reusing, repurposing or upcycling, just get that material out of the trash cans
- What are the recycled processes—collect, sort, clean, remake, resell
- and What happens if I don’t choose to recycle—Yikes! Bloated landfills, disrupted food chains, and seas swelling with more waste than we know what to do with. Not good.