THEME: Many of our daily habits are wasteful regarding the use of paper.

GOAL: Students will recognize how much paper is wasted and how it accumulates over time.

METHOD: Collecting and weighing paper, graphing the results

SUBJECTS: Math, social studies

SKILLS: Analyzing, comparing, measuring

MATERIALS: Waste paper; two cardboard boxes; scale

TIME: 2 weeks

Getting Started

Ask the students how much paper they think they use. How much do they think they waste?


  1. Each day have the students place in boxes all paper that would normally have been thrown away. In one box, place paper that has been completely used (i.e., written on both sides). In the other, pile paper that has been only partially used or not used at all.
  1. At the end of the day select a student to weigh each stack of paper and have the class graph the results.
  1. Follow this procedure every day for a week and discuss the following: Were you surprised at the amount of paper that was wasted? What is the effect of this waste on our natural resources and landfills? How can people change their habits so that there is less waste?
  1. Repeat the same activity for a second week. How different were the results? List on the board the different ways the students tried to conserve paper. Are there other items that are sometimes thrown away before they are completely used?


  1. Using the results obtained above, have the class determine how much paper it would waste in a month. In a year? How much paper would the class save in a month or a year if it reduced its paper consumption by one-half? By one-quarter?
  1. Working in small groups, have the class list the paper products they use at home or at school. In a parallel column, have them list products that could be used in their place (e.g., dishcloths instead of paper towels, handkerchiefs for paper tissues).

Source: Adapted from Washington, A-Way With Waste