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We have already offered suggestions for books about recycling and composting. Here are some ideas for books about garbage as well as other forms of waste disposal:

Smash! Mash! Crash! There Goes the Trash! by Barbara Odanaka is a rhyming book for early childhood. The book follows the men (in this case actually pigs) who pick up the trash and just how much of a mess their job is. This book is an appropriately silly introduction to where trash goes for young children.

For a non-fiction option, try Garbage Trucks by Marlene Targ Brill. The book explains the parts of a garbage truck, what it does, how it works, and gives facts about garbage. It’s a simple book as an introduction for your students.

Where Does the Garbage Go? by Paul Showers follows the garbage beyond the truck, looking at the landfill, the incinerator, and the recycling center. The book also covers reducing waste and ocean dumping, a process kids may know little about but are likely to have strong feelings about.

Loreen Leedy’s The Great Trash Bash is set in Beaston, where the animals have a problem – trash everywhere. Mayor Hippo visits the town dump, incinerator, and landfill and learns about the pros and cons of each, before investigating other options like recycling.

For experiments, check out Garbage and Recycling: Environmental Facts and Experiments by Rosie Harlow and Sally Morgan. The book could be read independently by upper elementary students or could be a reference manual for teachers and parents, both for content information about waste and for experiments to do with children.

Do you have any other favorite garbage books?

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So, for the past two weeks we have been talking about what to do with waste to avoid trashing it – you can reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, and mulch. But, eventually, some things are just plain trash.

To help kids get engaged in the need to avoid trash, it’s important to talk about where trash ends up… everything you put in a garbage bin eventually gets picked up by a garbage truck and from there taken to a landfill. Landfills are big places – and big is a hard idea for kids to imagine.

… so instead of starting with a landfill, start with the waste generated in your classroom in only one day.

Give each student a plastic bag and tie one end of it to their belt loops (have some lengths of string available in case they don’t have loops). For an entire day, have them throw everything they would normally put in the trash, recycling, or compost bin into the plastic bag. Do throw away smelly items and have students draw a picture of those items and keep the pictures in the plastic bag (e.g., a picture of an apple instead of carrying around the apple core).

At the end of the day, have each student dump the items out on a surface in the classroom. Have each student tally, list or draw the waste they generated. In addition to counting items, you could weigh, graph, or measure your waste in other ways. Once finished, pile all the waste from the entire class together and hold a class meeting. What will happen to these things when we really throw them away? Do students think they have generated a lot of waste or very little? Is there any way to make less waste tomorrow?

By now, students may already know about compost and recycling… finish the activity by asking – what happens to the things that can neither be recycled nor composted?

Use an image like the one below from Managua, Nicaragua to explain where trash ends up (click it for a higher resolution image).

CHURECA7The combination of collecting their own trash and this image should help students better understand trash and landfills. Check back in the next few days for more activities designed to do just that.

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Compost!

Back in October, we talked a lot about compost, but since it’s such an important part of waste management, there’s no harm in talking about it again.

Compost makes for happy worms!

Composting is the process of taking unwanted organic material, allowing it to decompose, and then using the decomposed soil as a great fertilizer for your garden or farm.

The idea is to take unwanted items — a rotten tomato, a banana peel — that would otherwise end up in a landfill and put it to productive use. In other words, composting helps take waste and use it to create great soil, which will then be used to grow new food.

For more information about the science and sustainability of compost and about composting with kids, check out our previous posts on the subject, all tagged as compost.

By the way, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum is closed tomorrow (December 25th) but open again on Monday (December 26th). Teach Green in Brooklyn will be back on December 28th with more great information about waste and what to do with it.

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So, let’s say that you have something that is waste and you can’t reuse it so you want to get rid of it. Most people would just throw that waste in the trash…

What is trash in the image below?

Nothing! None of that should end up in the trash can. The first group shows banana peels, eggshells, and leafy greens being placed in a compost bin. The rest of the items – newspapers and cereal boxes, glass bottles and jars, cans, and plastic bottles – can all be recycled. (Recycling varies from region to region, but these items can certainly all be recycled here in New York City.)

Waste is something that you no longer want or you can no longer use. Trash is something useless that will end up in a landfill.

Not all waste is trash. In fact, many of the things we throw away are not trash and should be composted or recycled instead. So that’s what we’re going to talk about for the next few days… because it’s awesome to have smaller landfills and more productive uses for our waste.

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If you reuse something you no longer wants, it ceases to be waste! You can reuse by repairing a broken toy, sewing a ripped pair of pants, or turning last year’s calendar into wall art.

Even better, for kids with growing bodies and changing tastes, you can arrange to trade unwanted items with another kid. Swap books you’ve already read and get a brand new reading experience, for free!

In My Green Community, our teacher’s guide, we suggest organizing a toy or book swap in your classroom. Full instructions are in that downloadable guide.

Vieux livres 20050512Another option is to partner with a local organization like GrowNYC to take part in a bigger swap. GrowNYC handles all kinds of sustainability projects, including their frequent Stop ‘N’ Swaps. On periodic weekends throughout the year in all five boroughs, they organize a space where people can show up. You can bring your unwanted items (or not) and take other’s unwanted items, with no restrictions on what or how much you take. Items include clothes, shoes, books, toys, household items, and more. The leftovers at the end of the event get reused or recycled or taken to a swap at a later date.

Last year, three Stop ‘N’Swaps were hosted here at Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and we hope to hold more here in the future!

For more information, check out GrowNYC’s website. There are no remaining swaps in 2011, but look for one near you in 2012.

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What a fantastic question! New York City uses over one billion gallons of water every day. That essential water comes to us via aqueducts that connect us to two different watersheds – the Croton watershed just up the Hudson and the Catskill / Delaware Watershed Area further upstate.

(A watershed is all the land whose water feeds through tributaries into a given larger body of water, like a lake, river, or bay. Therefore, the Croton watershed is all the area whose water, including rain water and snow melt, eventually flows into the Croton River.)

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for overseeing the quality of our water, including working with upstate authorities to keep our aqueducts full of clean water (emphasis on both full and clean).

If you’re explaining this to students, its a great idea to talk about what these upstate reservoirs are like. You most likely have students who have never been to another part of New York state. To help them envision the scene, read the first few pages of Water Dance by Thomas Locker. This beautifully illustrated book is set in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, the  region where our water originates.

After reading Water Dance, have a conversation with students about what would happen if people took too much water from the lake for wasteful purposes – would rain replace every drop we took? Would it change the natural landscape shown in the book? Then, ask students what they might do to use only the water they need from the lakes and reservoirs upstate. Students who aware of the source of our water and understand that it is not, in fact, an unlimited resource are more likely to appreciate the need to conserve water.

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We’ve talked a lot about water in this blog, but it should be said that before kids can understand water conservation, they have to understand just how much water they use on a daily basis. Here’s an activity borrowed from our educator’s guide, My Green Community, to help kids keep track of water use.

People often don’t realize how much water they use on a daily basis. Try asking a 4 year-old, “Have you used water today?” Unless he or she has had a drink of water, the answer will be no, until you explicitly ask, “what about brushing your teeth or washing your hands?!”

Ask the class to brainstorm, then draw or list all the ways they have used water today. The following day, have students keep track of these things throughout the day. This is a great opportunity to introduce tallying. How many times a day do they turn on a faucet or drink from a fountain? Have students carry around a sheet and tally these activities throughout the day.

After students are in the habit of keeping track of daily water use, extend the activity to include products that need water to grow or function properly. For example, rain water helped grow the banana you are eating and irrigation helped grow the cotton used to make your t-shirt. Water cools the engine of the bus or car you rode to school. Once students realize how omnipresent water is in their daily lives, they will be more mentally prepared for talk about water conservation.

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