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Garbage Bin Archaeology

Dig a little deeper into what we throw away

Australian Curriculum Links

  • Science >Earth and space sciences > Year 2 > ACSSU032
  • Mathematics > Measurement and Geometry > Year 2 > ACMMG038

You’ll need

  • BBQ Tongs
  • Rubber gloves
  • Plastic bags or sheets
  • Additional bins for recycling and scraps
  • Spring or electric scales

Try this

Safety considerations: Long BBQ tongs should be used to avoid contact with actual rubbish. Wear rubber gloves and wash hands thoroughly when finished.

  1. Find a large, open space outside.
  2. Bring the class rubbish bins outside towards the end of the day.
  3. Using tongs and rubber gloves, sort the different types of rubbish into piles or bags. What types of rubbish can you identify?
  4. Weigh and record the different types of rubbish. You can make up your own groups, but we sorted our rubbish into the following types:
  • Recyclable paper and cardboard
  • Other recyclable materials (plastics, metal and glass)
  • Compostable organic material
  • Garbage to landfill
  1. Sort the piles according to the time it takes for them to breakdown in the environment.
  2. Introduce new bins for recycling (e.g. soft plastics), compost, animal food, etc. for a few weeks and repeat the audit. Did the weight of rubbish going to landfill change? How much rubbish did you remove from the waste stream?

Further investigation

  • How did the classroom bins compare to the bins in the school yard? Was there other rubbish in the school yard that could have been recycled?

What’s Happening?

A lot of waste that can be recycled ends up in rubbish bins. By identifying what types of waste are not being recycled, we can think about ways of making it easier to recycle them. According to the ACT Government, 16% of primary school waste is recyclable paper and cardboard, 48% is organic material that can be composted, 22% is other recyclable materials and only 14% is garbage.

The range of items than can be recycled is much bigger than you might imagine. Planet Ark provides an extensive list of items that can be recycled.

Real world links

Recycling rubbish saves time, energy and the environment. Making one aluminium can takes almost 20 times the energy needed to recycle one. Making recycled cardboard uses 99% less water than making cardboard from trees. Recycling plastic uses 84% less energy than making new plastic.

Food and other organic waste, such as garden waste break down into dangerous gases such as methane if they are just left in the tip. Methane is a dangerous greenhouse gas and highly flammable. Sometimes tips will capture the methane and burn it to create energy.