THEME: Our culture encourages the use of disposable products and packaging.

GOAL: Students will learn that disposable products and excess packaging create more waste than reusable or recyclable products do.

METHOD: Reading and comparing products and packaging

SUBJECTS: Language arts, social studies

SKILLS: Analyzing, comparing, critical thinking

MATERIALS: Ox Cart Man by Donald Hall; other books depicting packaging and products from different cultures or time periods; one of the following books depicting products of today: The Wright Group Big Books (To Market, To Market; What's for Lunch?; I Want Ice Cream) or The Rigby Big Books (Breakfast in Bed; Green Bananas)

TIME: 1 week

Getting Started

Ask the students what the function of packaging is. Did people living during the Colonial period need packaging? Did they use the same kind as we do?


  1. Read aloud or have students read the Ox Cart Man and discuss the following questions: What is packaging? What is it used for? What did the family in the book use for carrying and holding food and other items? What products did they buy? What resources were used to make those products? What did they do when something was broken, used up, or worn out?
  2. Have the class read one of the stories depicting home life today. Discuss the same or similar set of questions.
  3. As a class, compare the two books. How does our lifestyle differ from that of Colonial Americans? How are they the same? What kinds of waste might Colonial Americans have had more of than modern Americans? What kinds of waste do we have more of? Why are so many of our products and packages designed for short-term use and quick disposal?


  1. Have the students interview a parent, grandparent, or another adult about what they used for products or packaging when they were children as compared to today.
  2. Plan a "no-trash" lunch using old fashioned packaging such as baskets, tins, and cloth napkins. Compare packaging to what we typically use today.

Source: Kristen Walser