Every year I look for engaging Earth day activities that I can use in my classroom that are engaging and educational. It’s a difficult task. I usually end up scrolling Pinterest for hours, only to find craft after craft after craft. I’m not interested in crafts. I want something that hits home to students for Earth day and just how important it is that we take care of the planet we live on. You know, something real world. Then it hit me, why not discuss our landfills!
In the past, I had used the Freddie Fish activity to help students understand about water pollution. That has always been a hit, but it was time to do something different. This time, we were going to talk trash!
Together, we discussed the landfills in the United States and how they are made. I grouped students and had them research a little about the different landfills and how some states travel across state lines to dispose of their trash, while others do not. We also talked about what was going into those landfills. This was also the perfect time for me to introduce my students to the terms biodegradable and decomposing.
After we discussed how long it takes for some materials to decompose and how some materials are biodegradable, I broke them up into groups and had them create their own mini-landfills. This was my chance to allow students to see in action how our landfills are filling up.
Creating our Mini-Landfills
Each group was given a large plastic container with a lid, large craft sticks, soil from outside (do not buy the store soil), and five different items. On my table, at the front of the room, there was a variety of items for them to choose from. The choices were aluminum cans (such as a soda can), baby food jars and other small glass containers, small plastic materials (such as small plastic bottle caps, plastic rings, small plastic lids, etc.), egg shells, potato peelings, banana peels, styrofoam, strips of fabric, cardboard pieces, old leaves, other pieces of fruit, coffee grounds, tea bags, and so on. I tried to encourage students to take at least one item that would take a long time to decompose and one biodegradable item. Each group discussed which items they wanted to place in their “landfill” (but they could only choose 5).
In their groups, students then filled their plastic containers up with at least two inches of soil and divided it up into five equal sections. Next, students buried each item, one at a time, in a different section of the soil and tried to cover it completely (some will only be partly covered). Students then moistened the soil thoroughly and placed the lid on top of the container. The students predicted which of their five items they thought would be fast decomposers and which would be slow decomposers.
Then I placed the containers in a dark location and out of the way (in a place less frequented). I returned the container to each group to stir and examine each section two times a week for about four weeks to examine the contents and record any changes (odors, organisms, decay amount). (If desired, you can start this at the beginning of the year and continue until the end of the year to see the BIG differences.)
Once this concluded, we discussed that often these same materials end up in our landfills and take years to decompose, causing them to fill up very quickly. These odors amplify with the trash and could easily be reduced. Then I used this as a segue into discussing ways to reduce trash such as by recycling, reusing, reducing, and even trying composting.
Grab the FREEBIE!
Grab this mini-landfill freebie that includes a reading piece and an observation chart for your students to complete this engaging landfill activity! Just click here to download it now. I hope this earth day activity of creating your own mini-landfill is a hit!