Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

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SWBAT create a product by reusing a common household item such as paper towel rolls, newspaper, or plastic bags.

Big Idea

Students identify ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle products, then work in teams to develop a product by reusing common household items.

Rationale and Preparation

The Why Behind Teaching This 

Unit 7 covers standard 5-ESS3-1: Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment.  In this unit students research how science is related to various professions.  They also research ways to conserve energy and ways that communities work together to keep their environment clean.    This specific lesson teaches students about the importance of the 3 Rs in science: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  

Lesson Goal:

The goal of this lesson is for students to create a product by reusing a common household item that would otherwise be thrown away.  

Success Criteria: 

Students will demonstrate success on this goal by successfully creating something out of paper towel or toilet paper rolls, plastic water bottles, or plastic bags, and presenting it to the class.  

Preparing For The Lesson:

Warm Up:

  • Chart paper for creating a sign showing how long it takes 10 common items to decompose. I got the information for my poster from a PDF I found online
  • Black construction paper to cover up the times so that students have to guess. 
  • Whiteboard and marker for each student  

Guided Practice:

  • Chart paper for creating a poster for meanings and examples of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle 


  • computers or laptops for searching for ideas 
  • a lot of plastic bags, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, and plastic bottles.  I also had peanut butter in my cupboard which was used by one group, bird seed and soil in my science closet which was also used.  

Wrap Up:

Students are presenting their products so no other materials are needed. 

Warm Up

15 minutes

How Long Does It Take To Decompose 

I begin today's lesson with a guessing game.  I have a chart already created that includes 10 common household items and the time it takes each to decompose.   I cover the times with black construction paper so that the students cannot see that information.  The game requires them to guess how long each takes to decompose and the student that gets the closest to the actual time earns a point.  This is a fun way to introduce the lesson because students usually guess much less time than it actually takes and are shocked when the real time is revealed.  


I provide students with a whiteboard and marker and go through the list one item at a time.  The first couple that were revealed, student guesses were really far off.  They were guessing much lower than the actual time.  They began overcompensating for this by guessing much too high.  You can see in the video of class guessing the time for a plastic bag to decompose, they began guessing huge numbers because their previous guesses were much too low.  

Guided Practice

10 minutes

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle 

I have a piece of chart paper divided into three sections titled: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  I explain to students that these three words are examples of ways we can help protect the Earth and keep some items out of landfills.  I ask for ideas on the meaning of each word and then some examples.  Students had a difficult time coming up with a difference between reuse and recycle because they wanted to put use again for both.  After our discussion, we came up with the following meanings: 

  • Reduce - Use less of something 
  • Reuse - Use something again in a new way 
  • Recycle - To transform back to its raw form and make something new




30 minutes

Finding Ways to Reuse Common Household Waste Items 

I explain to students that we can do our part by recycling items at home in our bins (every household is provided bins in our district), conserving resources like water and electricity, and finding ways to reuse items around our house.  I brought in a lot of plastic bags, water bottles, and paper towel and toilet paper rolls.  I tell students that these are items that I noticed I have a ton of at home that could possibly be reused in some way.  I give groups the task of coming up with some way to reuse these items.

I chose to focus on the reusing aspect for this lesson because recycling is done at a recycling center, we just turn in the items to be recycled and conservation involves doing things at home like turning lights off and using less water.  Finding ways to reuse common items we might otherwise throw away, could give us all ideas on creative things we could use items for.   

For the next 30 minutes, groups use laptops to search for some ideas and then begin creating a new product using these old items.    

A group of girls chose to cut up the plastic bags, braid them together, and tape the ends to create a jump rope.  You can see in the video of girls making jump rope from plastic bags that it was a fairly easy project that any child their age could do.  They demonstrate using the jump rope when groups present their product at the end of the lesson.  

Another group chose to make bird feeders out of  toilet paper rolls.  They covered paper towel rolls in peanut butter and then rolled them in bird seed.  They tied a string through the roll to hang from a tree. 

A third group used plastic water bottles for planters.  They cut the bottles in half, turned the top portion over and glued it down in the bottom.  They then filled the top with soil and planted seeds in it.  Their thinking is that the clear bottle will allow kids to see the roots grow and spread out as the plant grows.  They also left the cap off and believe that this will help allow water to fill up the bottom and be used by the plant as it needs it.    

Wrap Up

5 minutes

Presenting New Products

Students show the class their finished product made from reusing old materials that would otherwise be thrown away.  They describe how they made the item and what it is used for.  Since the jump rope is used for physical activity, the girls demonstrated how to jump with it and let other students try it out.  You can see one girl from the group jumping with it in the video of girl jumping rope.



It is important to take the last 5 minutes of the lesson to let the groups share because they worked hard on their products.  It also provides the other students with ideas that they would do at home to reuse some of the items.  Most of the students wanted to make bird feeders with the toilet paper rolls after seeing the item completed.  I had enough bird seed to send some home with the students to make one at home but did not have enough toilet paper rolls or peanut butter for everyone to do it at school.