Investigate: Waste & Recycling
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The average person creates about four pounds of garbage a day, translating to almost 1600 pounds of garbage in a year. We throw away bottles, cans, food waste, electronics, plastics, and other items that make up the 220 million tons of garbage that we create in the United States each year. That is enough garbage to cover Texas, twice! Paper makes up the majority of the waste we throw away, making up about 28% or 68 million tons of all the waste produced on an annual basis. In 2009, we recycled 62% of all the paper used, but that means that 25 million tons of paper is still going to landfills.
It is estimated that upwards of 80% of the waste we create can be recycled or composted. By recycling and composting, we reclaim resources that would otherwise literally go to waste. Recycling, composting, reuse and reduction of waste also helps to reduce energy use and can save schools money on waste hauling fees. Studying about waste, recycling, composting, source reduction, reuse and composting in schools provides unique and relevant opportunities for students to engage in scientific inquiry, problem-solving and critical thinking as they investigate, gather data, analyze and propose solutions. Waste offers real world opportunities for development of scientific content knowledge and process skills in the areas of chemistry, biology, engineering, observation, inference, measurement, data collection and analysis, communication and more.
Waste management challenges bring together the fields of economics, environmental science, sociology, political science, health, and engineering. A more informed citizenry has the potential to come up with better solutions to our waste problems and knows the importance of reducing the amount of waste in our homes, schools and communities. The role of educators is fundamental to this process. The students in your classroom will be the policy makers, scientists, and voters of tomorrow. It is critical to help students realize that they can make decisions and take responsible action, which in turn can have positive effects on their community.
(Source: EPA, http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/index.htm)