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Garbage and Recycling Lesson Plans for PreK, Kindergarten, and Elementary

Garbage and recycling lesson plans.png

Can you smell that? It’s our first kindergarten field trip to the county dump and recycling plant. That’s my Pickle-in-the-Middle holding her nose on the right.


*WARNING: This post will be littered with garbage puns. If you don’t like puns this may be a total waste of time.

This field trip actually stunk a lot less than I’d anticipated. We learned a truckload and got to see an amazing view of over fifty years of trash.

We kicked it off with a tour of the intake building and a short lecture on garbage vs. recycling – what goes in which bin, what actually gets recycled, and what we can do to make sure our recycling doesn’t go into the trash heap. Our gracious guide gave us a toy recycling bin, recycling coloring book, and reusable bag before we headed off up the mountain of garbage to the observation deck.

It was actually pretty cool. Here we were at the highest point in the county, looking all the way out to the Gulf, standing on top of a pile of junk from 1972. I highly recommend looking into a dump or recycling plant tour in your area. It’s something not everyone gets to see in their lives. The massive hills of garbage are really astounding. If I were invited again, I would not refuse.

Some random scraps of information:

You may want to check with your county trash and recycling collector. Every plant is different.
  • Pizza Boxes: Rip the gross side off and only recycle the clean side. If you recycle nasty pizza grease and cheese the overall quality of the recycled cardboard goes down. The recycling plant may not be able to sell it, and the whole lot would be trashed.
  • Jars and Bottles: If the lid of the jar or bottle is made of a different material (think metal lid on a glass pickle jar) take the lid off and recycle it separately. Workers at the recycling plant won’t be unscrewing every jar that comes through, so mixed materials may be thrown into the garbage heap.
  • You may or may not be able to recycle aluminum foil in your area. Check your city’s website or ask the nice lady on your own landfill tour.
  • Did you know the gas produced from burying or burning our garbage is used to make the electricity that powers our homes? So even the majority of our garbage is being reused or recycled. What a sweet sediment.
  • What happens when you run out of room? The landfill we visited was supposed to close last year, but there is no place for a new one. Instead of moving the site, they have begun digging up the oldest mounds, recycling what has not broken down, and using the remaining dirt to bury new garbage. They also recently changed their permit to allow them to build the hills from 109 feet to 200. That’s a whole lot of rubbish.

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Hopefully I will save you some time rummaging through tons of recycling and Earth Day lesson plans, here area few free resources we used for a truly easy and free lesson. 


I checked out around twenty books this week. It was a little repetitive. These were the kids’ favorites:

Big Earth, Little Me by Thom Wiley
Trashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman

Michael Recycle by Ellie Bethel
Recycle!: A Handbook for Kida by Gail Gibbons


Watch Online: Sid the Science Kid, Recycling Episode

Other Shows to Borrow or Stream: 
Curious George Goes Green
Magic School Bus – The Rot Squad, S1E6 and Holiday Special (Recycling), S3E13
Peppa Pig – Recycling Episode, S2E12

Click HERE to check out my Recycling Playlist on YouTube. It’s 35 minutes long so you’ll have time to take a shower. Enjoy.


Making more stuff to throw away sort of defeats the purpose of this unit. Use your materials wisely. Here are a few truly easy and free things we did instead:

Meet your Trash Collectors
Go outside and meet your community helpers. You know what time they come. It’s the time just before you roll over and say, “Hon, did you remember to take the trash out?”

Be a Trash Collector
This is the perfect time to teach the kids a new job. I gave the oldest a list of all the trash cans in the house and a big plastic bag. Get to work, kid! Now he does it every week.

Write a List
We did a simple house walk-through finding items that were made out of paper, plastic, cardboard, and metal. It seems like common sense stuff, but it might be your kindergartner’s first introduction to sorting items by material rather than by attribute (color, shape, texture). It requires some synthesis of knowledge on their part. Your child might be thinking, “This is red and shiny, smooth and hard. It must be plastic. This is clear and shiny, flexible and smooth, but it is plastic, too. Plastic is usually smooth and shiny and can be flexible or hard. Huh. I’m a genius. Who knew?” When you’re done with your list, circle and count the number of items that can be recycled. Compare that to the number of items that cannot be recycled. Then recycle your list.

Here, Throw this Away
We did a lot of sorting this week. In fact, every time I had something to toss I handed it to a kid instead. We put a big recycling sticker on the recycle bin and a dancing trash can on the other. Label a garbage can with a garbage can? Kids are ridiculous. Whenever I needed to throw something out I’d yell out, “Can I recycle THIS?” and just handed it off. We had some laughs. I don’t know why but trying to recycle half-eaten fruit was especially hilarious.

Make a Poster out of Recycled Paper
I’ll admit this wasn’t my idea. The oldest wanted to cut up his coloring book instead of coloring it. Have at it, mister. You could cut up anything. Check out boxes and labels for recycling symbols, headlines in magazines or newspapers (do people still get those?), or use characters in old coloring books to make your own amazing collage. I do mean amazing. Quick someone put this art on Pinterest.

This is the first post from our first week of kindergarten. We are homeschoolers.  It’s cooler than you think.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Where was your first field trip? Feel free to post your comments and ideas below. Follow all of our adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

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