Recycling in Our Classroom

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SWBAT generate ideas for reducing, reusing, and recycling in our classroom.

Big Idea

Students design a system for reducing waste in our classroom.


In this lesson, students set up a recycling center in our classroom to reduce the amount of paper waste and plastic bottles that we throw away each day. This lesson aligns to Essential Standard 1.L.1.3, Summarize ways that humans protect their environment and/or improve conditions for the growth of the plants and animals that live there (e.g., reuse or recycle products to avoid littering). I also post an essential question for the day. Today's is "How can we show stewardship in our own classroom?" Watch my Explanation of Essential Standards and Essential Question.

This lesson also supports Science and Engineering Practice 6 as students generate multiple solutions to the waste problem in our classroom and Practice 8 as students communicate information through their posters.


*Access to

*3 large boxes/totes for recycling center

*Cardboard for signs

*Paper for posters (I used 11" x 18" white)

*Markers/crayons, etc.

Warm Up

5 minutes

My students already have a good understanding from previous lessons about why we should recycle in our classroom. Today, I start with a video to review what we have already covered about recycling and what kinds of things can be recycled. Then I say,

"When you looked at the photographs of the trash that we generate in our own classroom, mostly you found paper and a few plastic bottles. Today, we are going to think of ideas of ways that we could reduce and recycle what we throw away in our classroom. Then, you're going to work to spread the idea to other classrooms so that they can start to recycle, too!"

I am connecting this lesson to a previous lesson where students looked at real pictures of things in our garbage. Since most of our waste is paper and bottles, it will be pretty easy to turn this in to a class project!


25 minutes

For the activity, some students are going to label a box with "Recycle - Plastics", some students are going to label a container with "Reuse - Paper", and some students are going to label a box with "Reuse - STEM Lab" for objects that could be used in the STEM lab for other projects. The goal is to reduce our overall waste in the classroom --and at the same time, I can teach them how to save valuable classroom supplies, like paper! I say,

"Since we throw away a lot of paper and plastic, what are your ideas for what we could do with those things? Okay, we could recycle the plastic bottles. That's right! We could save  the bigger pieces of paper and reuse them. What about other things, like boxes or glue stick lids? I have an idea - maybe we can save those and reuse them in STEM lab! How can we do this?"

This is an 'all hands on deck' approach to preparing our classroom for recycling, so whomever is interested in each job takes part. I do not assign roles or jobs - I just let this happen so that the students really 'own' the process. Otherwise, they probably won't continue to recycle and reuse the things in the classroom. I have the boxes ready with some construction paper, but the rest is up to them! I help them with spelling and keeping them on task. I also suggest that they draw some examples to glue on the outside of the boxes so that people remember what to put in each box. Generating multiple solutions to a problem supports Science and Engineering Practice 6, and students are designing different ways to reduce and reuse in our classroom.

After about 10-15 minutes, I say,

"Okay, let's bring our finished boxes up and see what we think!"

We review the purpose of each box together.

Wrap Up

5 minutes

To finish up the lesson, I say,

"I am really proud of you all for working together to change how much waste our classroom throws away. I really think if we all try to help each other and stick to the plan, we can make a difference! Now, who can answer the question - why is it important to reduce and recycle?"

Communicating information supports Science and Engineering Practice 8 because they have evaluated the purpose of recycling and reusing and are now ready to put it into practice!