THEME: Trash disposal methods have changed over the past 250 years.

GOAL: Students will evaluate how solid waste disposal methods have evolved to reflect new technology and changes in the types of waste being generated.

METHOD: Research and debate

SUBJECTS: English, science, social studies

SKILLS: Analyzing, public speaking, researching, role playing

MATERIALS: None

TIME: One class period, plus additional time for class debates

Getting Started

As a class, develop a list of factors that might influence the kinds of trash disposal methods employed.

Procedure

  1. Have the students research population growth in Massachusetts since 1650. Discuss the relationship between increased human population and the amount of solid waste being produced. How might the amount and composition of solid waste be influenced by changes in lifestyle? What impacts have increased numbers of people and the amount and complexity of the waste stream had on the environment?
  2. How have disposal methods changed over time? Why? (Some reasons include changes in waste stream composition, technological progress, and new knowledge regarding the environmental impacts of waste and particular disposal methods.) Point out that the way we dispose of our waste has evolved in response to changes in our society.
  3. Divide the class into small teams. Assign each group a time period and have them research trash disposal method(s) used in Massachusetts during that era. Choose time periods that include or follow a major breakthrough in solid waste technology, a social or scientific discovery, or the passage of new legislation. Students should explore the impetus for the transition, disposal methods used before and after the change, and the pros, cons, and environmental impacts of these methods.
  4. Have each group present a debate of the issues surrounding solid waste disposal from their era. The facts used in the debate should reflect the information and technology available at that time. Each student in the group should play a different role representing a character in their time period. For example, characters in a Colonial period debate might include a town father, a store keeper, a farmer, a doctor, and a person who lives in town. Characters involved in the era surrounding the passage of the Bottle Bill might include a supermarket manager, an environmentalist, a legislator (for and against the Bottle Bill), a state resident, a liquor store owner, etc.
  5. Debates should be presented chronologically. At the end of each debate, initiate a short class discussion to summarize and record the key points. At the conclusion of all the debates, copy and distribute the lists of key points. Students will have created a Massachusetts Solid Waste Disposal history book.

Extensions

Have each group research a waste disposal method used today (source reduction, recycling, composting, combustion, landfills), and stage a class debate on the pros and cons surrounding each method. Explore the validity of each method for particular types of waste. Discuss the rationale behind the Department of Environmental Protection's prioritization of these methods. Introduce the concept of Integrated Solid Waste Management and discuss the importance of combining the various methods to suit the environmental and financial situations in the Commonwealth.