THEME: Our waste stream has changed over time, reflecting technology advances, increased wealth, and changes in social behavior.

GOAL: Students will understand that changes in the composition of the waste stream depend on our habits and lifestyles.

METHOD: Research and completion of worksheet

SUBJECTS: Language arts, social studies

SKILLS: Analyzing, comparing, researching

MATERIALS: "Then and Now" worksheet

TIME: 1 hour, plus additional time for research

Getting Started

Ask students how life today differs from life in the 1800s. How would these differences affect the kind and amount of waste produced?

Procedure

  1. Ask students to make a list of items they use every day (e.g., kitchen appliances, clothing, tools, machines, types of transportation, food).
  1. As a class, go over the students' lists. Do any patterns emerge? What kinds of lifestyles require these products? What do these products tell you about our priorities?
  1. Have each child pick one item from their list and research its equivalent from one or two hundred years ago. Have students complete the "Then and Now" worksheet and draw pictures or construct an artifact of their item for a class display.
  1. Discuss the differences between the products used during each time period. Ask the class: What do the products tell you about the lifestyles and the way people spent (or spend) their time during each time period? Can you tell what was (or is) important to the people in each time period? How might these differences affect the generation and disposal of solid waste?

Extensions

  • Have the students, individually or in groups, invent an alternative to a modern convenience that uses few, if any, nonrenewable resources, is designed to last a long time, and will not adversely affect the environment when its useful life is over.

THEN AND NOW
Worksheet

NAME OF YOUR ITEM___________________________
 

NAME OF ITS HISTORICAL EQUIVALENT______________________

  • Answer the following questions for your item and its historical equivalent.
a. Is it made from natural or synthetic components?
NOW:

THEN:

b. Is it made from renewable or nonrenewable resources?
NOW:

THEN:

c. Does it require energy from renewable or nonrenewable resources to operate?
NOW:

THEN:

d. Does it last a long time or is it disposed of quickly?
NOW:

THEN:

e. Is it hand crafted or mass produced?
NOW:

THEN:

f. Is it something you could do without or something you consider necessary?
NOW:

THEN:

g. Is it biodegradable or nonbiodegradable?
NOW:

THEN:

h. Does it contain any hazardous materials?
NOW:

THEN:

i. Is it necessary for survival or is it a convenience?
NOW:

THEN:
  • List some "luxuries" from the past that are considered necessities today.
  • What changes in lifestyle would result from the following:

    a. The loss of a nonrenewable resource

    b. A drastic increase in the price of a nonrenewable fuel

    c. Irreparable damage to a renewable resource (e.g., groundwater contamination, depletion of forest reserves, animal extinction)

Source: Reprinted with permission from AVR, Teacher's Resource Guide