THEME: Combustion as a waste management method has both benefits and drawbacks.

GOAL: Students will evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of combustion.

METHOD: Visiting a waste combustion facility

SUBJECTS: English, science, social studies

SKILLS: Comparing, observing, value judgment


TIME: One class period, plus additional time for field trip

Getting Started

Is burning a good way to get rid of trash?


  1. Introduce the process of incineration and its advantages and drawbacks as a waste management tool. Note that burning can reduce the volume of trash by 80 to 90 percent. The concepts of volume and weight reduction might be addressed through comparison with a wood fire and the amount of material visible before it is ignited vs. what remains after the fire has burned out.
  2. Invite the manager of an incinerator to class to describe how the process works, what sort of preparation is needed, what kind of special treatment is required for the ash residue, and so on.
  3. Arrange a trip to visit a waste combustion facility. A list of facilities can be obtained from DEP's Division of Solid Waste Management. Prior to the trip, have the students prepare questions about combustion facilities. One approach is to divide students into small groups, with each group assigned a different aspect of the combustion process (e.g., air emissions, ash residues, siting issues). Each group would be responsible for getting information on its topic and presenting the results to the class.
  4. Construct a wall chart comparing the advantages and disadvantages of combustion.


  1. Take a sample of trash and have the students sort out items that could be reused or recycled, removing them from the waste stream. Compare the amount left to be burned to the original sample. Discuss the implications of burning versus recycling.
  2. If your community is serviced by an incinerator, have the students research how much of the town's solid waste is burned versus recycled. Have the class compare the economics of incineration with those of recycling and prepare a report on their findings.

Source: Adapted from AVR, Teacher's Resource Guide