} CAS: Teachers - Where Do I Put My Trash?

Teachers > Lessons & Kits > Lesson Plans > Anytime Lesson Plan: Where Do I Put My Trash?

Anytime Lesson Plan: Where Do I Put My Trash?


In this lesson, students wil learn what happens to trash when we throw it away; which trash items can be recycled or composted; and the importance of throwing trash into the proper receptacle.


In this lesson, students will:

  1. learn what happens to trash when we throw it away.
  2. learn which trash items can be recycled or composted.
  3. learn the importance of throwing trash into the proper receptacle.


  • trash bins: three per team (one for recyclables, one for compostables, and one for trash, all clearly labeled)
  • several pieces of trash that represent items that will be thrown in each of the three bins
  • bell


  • compost: a mixture of decayed or decaying organic matter used to fertilize soil
  • landfill: a low area of land that is built up from deposits of solid refuse in layers covered by soil
  • recycle: to treat or process (used or waste materials) so as to make suitable for reuse



  1. Set up three trash receptacles at the front of the class.  Make sure they are clearly labeled “Trash,” “Recycling,” and “Compost.”  (These receptacles can be cardboard boxes, buckets, etc.)
  2. Set a bell near the trash cans.
  3. Collect trash examples and have a few (8-10) nearby. 


  1. Explain to the students which trash items can be put in the recycling, composting, and trash bins according to the San Francisco guidelines (or the guidelines of the place that you live).
  2. Explain the concept of a landfill to the students.  Make sure they understand that when they throw trash “away” it is actually put into a landfill.
  3. Ask the students to think about why we recycle and compost.  Ask them to explain what happens to trash that is recycled and what happens to trash that is composted.
  4. Explain the importance of knowing which trash items go in which receptacle, so we can reduce the amount of trash that ends up in the landfill.


  1. Tell the students that you will hold up each piece of trash over each receptacle and that they should clap when they think it is over the proper receptacle. 
  2. After you have held it over all three, hold the trash over the proper receptacle, ring the bell and throw it in the receptacle.  Continue with the lesson until all types of trash have been properly disposed of. 
  3. Divide the class up into teams of four or more (but make the teams even). 
  4. Mark a starting line that all students must stand behind.
  5. Give each team three receptacles, one each for trash, recycling and composting. 
  6. Have teams place the receptacles equidistant from the starting line. (5-10 feet suggested.)
  7. Give each team a pile of different types of trash (equal amounts).
  8. Have a relay race where students must correctly throw their trash in the proper receptacle.
  9. The team that finishes first with all of their trash properly disposed of wins.  The remaining teams will wait to see if the first team finished actually has all their trash in the proper receptacle. 
  10. If the team has done everything correctly, they win. The remaining teams will keep going until each team has correctly disposed of all their trash.  In the event a team finishes with incorrectly placed trash, they must figure out which is wrong and move it to the correct receptacle while all the other teams continue to relay. 


  1. Ask the students to think of the trash they throw away at home. What is the most common item? Can it be recycled? Or composted?
  2. Prompt the students to think about reducing the amount of trash they make and reusing things rather than throwing them out. 
  3. Ask the students to think of other ways to keep trash from needlessly filling up landfills.


California Content Standards

Grade Three

Health Education

  • 1.6.P.  Discuss how reducing, recycling, and reusing products make for a healthier environment.
  • 7.2.P.  Demonstrate ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle at home, at school, and in the community.



The city of San Francisco has one of the most comprehensive curbside recycling and composting programs in the country. Compostable waste collected in San Francisco is sent to a huge composting facility where it eventually breaks down into nutrient-rich soil.  That soil is then sold to local organic farms and vineyards throughout the Bay Area.  Recyclable waste is sent off to various facilities where it is broken down and reformed into new products. Although this program makes it easy to keep trash from ending up in the landfill, it can be confusing to remember which things can be recycled, which can be composted, and which trash items must be thrown away.

Every city has very specific guidelines about which types of trash can be recycled and composted.  It is important for us to understand these guidelines, so that we can make the most of these programs.  Putting trash in with recyclables costs the city and taxpayers money and decreases the productivity of the recycling programs.  In addition, tons of recyclables and compostables are thrown into the garbage and end up in landfills every year, simply due to a lack of knowledge.  The goal of this activity is to arm students with information about recycling and composting so that they can make correct choices when disposing of their waste. 

Trash that can be recycled or composted should not end up in the trash.  Landfills take up valuable land space, produce toxic methane gas because of the decomposition process, and require money and resources to maintain.  In addition, organic waste like food scraps and lawn trimmings that biodegrade easily in nature take a significantly longer amount of time to break down in a landfill.

This activity is perfect for the first week of class, when classroom recycling rules should be set in place and followed throughout the year. 

For further background information, here is a table detailing what goes in each bin in San Francisco:

StyrofoamAluminum cansBanana peels
Plastic sandwich bagsUsed paperMilk carton
Wire hangers All plastic tubs/lidsBread
StrawsAll plastic bottlesSoiled cardboard
Potato chip bagsAluminum/Tin foilApple core
Saran wrap Glass bottle Meat, nuts, bones
 Coffee cup lids Waxed cardboard


Share how you adapted this activity for your grade level. Or, ask us a question!
If you used this lesson, give your star rating above.

comments powered by Disqus