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FUN Garbage and Recycling Lesson Plans for Kindergarten, Preschool, Elementary

Whether you’re looking for Earth Day resources or just want to learn about your local garbage man, your kids will love our garbage & recycling lesson plans! These activities are appropriate for preschool, kindergarten, and lower elementary children, but don’t be surprised if your older kids want to tag along! Let’s learn all about trash!

Garbage and Recycling Activities for kids

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.


Learn about Garbage and Recycling on a field trip to your county dump!

I highly recommend setting up 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.

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 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.

Garbage and Recycling Tips we learned that you can practice at home!

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 the dump runs 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.

Activities for your Garbage & Recycling Lesson Plans

Making more stuff to throw away sort of defeats the purpose of this unit. Use your materials wisely and re-use when you can!

√ 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?”

The garbage collectors in your area will be happy to see a friendly face in the morning. Young children see them as heroes – and they are! Heroes working to keep our homes and streets clean everyday before dawn.

√ 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. Pretending to be a garbage collector or playing a recycling game is more fun than just saying, “Take out the trash!”

This is a fun way to get kids started with chores. Make it a game.

Garbage and recycling lesson plans for kindergarten, preschool, and elementary grades.√ Write a Recycling 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 childs’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.

Not sure which items can be recycled? Look for the recycling triangle on products to determine where they go.

√ Practice Throwing Trash Away in the Correct Bin

We did a lot of sorting this week. In fact, every time I had something to toss I handed it to a kid instead. Talk about real, hands-on learning! Ha!

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 funny.

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.
Trash Collage for Garbage and Recycling Activities

Make a Trash Collage out of Re-usable 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.

Don’t have a recycling coloring book? You could cut up anything.

  • Find boxes and labels for recycling symbols
  • Headlines in magazines or newspapers (do people still get those?)
  • Use characters in old coloring books to make your own amazing collage

Books about Garbage AND RECYCLING for Kids

I checked out around twenty books this week. It was a little repetitive to read the same garbage and recycling facts again and again. These were our 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

Garbage and Recycling Playlist for Kids

Your kids will love learning all about garbage and recycling with a playlist filled with facts, songs, and books. Stream it here or watch on YouTube.

Run Time: approx 25 min

Kids Shows about Garbage and Recycling

The educational ones – not just trash on TV!

Watch Online: Sid the Science Kid, Recycling Episode

Curious George Goes Green

Peppa Pig – Recycling Episode, S5E6

Magic School Bus – The Rot Squad, S1E6 and Holiday Special (Recycling), S3E13

What is something new you learned about trash? Post it in the comments below!

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