Wasted: let’s clean up our act!


45 minutes


To look at waste: the concept, and the waste around the school; envision a different relationship to waste; and challenge ourselves to reduce waste in our lives.


What is waste?  Waste is anything that’s wasted; a human idea of “useless things.”  Yet it is environmentally destructive when we indulge in a disposable society, mining and using resources faster than they can be replenished, and drowning areas is trash and the invisible by-products that leach into the environment.

Fast Facts:

  • Industrial agriculture in the U.S. is the least efficient farming system in the world, using 10 calories of fuel to produce one calorie of food, on average
  • The average food travels 1,500 miles before ending up on your dinner plate.
  • 80% of the energy burned in U.S agriculture goes into transport, packaging, restaurants, refrigeration and preparation
  • 40-50% of food ready for harvest goes to waste in the U.S.
  • The U.S. spends $1 billion per year to dispose of food waste

We all learn that we should Recycle, Reduce, Reuse, but these tenets are not enough to solve the problems overconsumption creates on the planet.  Recycling can take more energy than it saves, create “downcycled” products that never truly make up for the resources originally used, and release toxic by-products into water and air, and often recycling facilities are scarcely different from a landfill.  Reuse is helpful, but once creative reuses of products run out, the item is often recycled to the same fate.  Reducing consumption is vital, but the relative reduction in resource use is scarcely going to keep non-renewable resources from their fate of near-extinction.

The first step in addressing this issue of waste is to understand that waste is a human concept.  The is no waste in nature.  One output from a natural system becomes the input for another element.  (Think of falling leaves feeding forest fungi, whose “wastes” feed bacteria, whose “wastes” feed plants, who feed us.)  If we realize that we are creating products (which may be unnecessary) at an unsustainable rate and dumping them, and their by-products, somewhere on the planet, we may revision how we can produce, use, and “dispose of” the things we need to live.

Is there waste in your life?  What is it??  What can you do to reduce waste in your life???  Can we revision waste in our lives and on the planet?


  • garbage bags (used grocery bags!)
  • gloves- rubber and/or gardening gloves
  • large container(s) to look at/sort collected garbage
  • plastic bottles (2L), soil, seeds
  • large sheets of paper, markers


  • renewable resource/non-renewable resource
  • recycle
  • industrialization


  1. Today is one day before earth day, and 50 years after a remarkable naturalist and author, Rachel Carson, wrote the book Silent Spring in response to the devastation observed as a result of industrialization.  What are examples of waste? (encourage specific examples)  What are some definitions of waste? In nature, in the garden, what is waste?  If it’s hard to think of an example, perhaps there is a reason: that WASTE does not occur in nature; that waste is a human idea; that waste is anything that’s wasted.
  2. Collect the garbage around the garden.  How much of it could be recycled?  What will happen to the rest?  And what exactly do you know about the recycling process?
  3. Plastic bottle planters/greenhouses:Cut bottles in half, poke drainage holes in bottom, fill with soil, and plant a seed or two!  Water well and cover with the top half of the bottle (cap off!)
  4. Challenge: Think of something you can do/buy/make/eat this weekend that will reduce the amount of waste in your life.  What is it?  Pick a partner now, and share with him/her.  On Monday, check in with other and share if you succeeded, and how it was.  Write your challenge on a large sheet of paper under the words “This Earth Day I Will…”


  1. Today we made plastic soda bottle planters for starting flowers in.  What is another reuse of the plastic bottle you can think of?
  1. How many of you have a different idea of what waste is than when you entered class today?  If so, name something you used to think of as waste, and think of a way you could either reuse or refuse it!


  • Math: Measure the amount of recyclables versus garbage. What percentage could be recycled?
  • Trash Art!: There are endless crafts that can be made from trash. Try bookmarks out of paper waste; wallets out of plastic wrappers;  “mixed media” collage; bird feeders out of plastic. The possibilities are huge: let imaginations run wild!
  • Make an Earth Day banner out of CLEAN trash items, and hanging it somewhere in the school.


Society of St. Andrews: Food Waste in America


Food Waste in America


USDA Food Loss Study

EPA: Environmental Impact of Food Waste:

Food Waste is Water Waste

Waste Land documentary- about creating art out of landfills, and the people who make a living off the landfills- amazing!!


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