What do you recycle, and what do you trash? Researchers say that “[a]fter we finish using a product, we somehow evaluate, ‘does the product still look like it could be useful?’” Tons of recyclable material—scraps of paper, dented cans, broken bottles—end up in the landfill every year. (Testing this would be a great, do-able science fair project!) (NPR)
- Review the findings about how people recycle, and then read our activity “Perils of Plastic.” Follow steps 2-4 of the activity—collect recyclable trash for a week. Evaluate the recyclable material at the end of the week.
- Are people recycling torn paper?
- Are people recycling dented cans, broken bottles, or smashed plastics?
- Conduct the same “Perils of Plastic” exercise with a class or other group that has not read or listened to the NPR article. Evaluate the trash collected by this group, and compare it to the first. Is their recyclable material in different shape?
- The researcher profiled in the NPR article thinks that “the first step in changing these habits is to be aware of our bias about usefulness.” Do you agree?
- Why do you think people are more likely to “trash” broken or dented recyclable materials?
- We sometimes make unfair, inaccurate associations. The language in “Perils of Plastic,” for example, encourages people to bring in “clean” trash only. We sometimes associate “clean” with “whole and undamaged.”
- As the researchers in the NPR article say, we sometimes associate “trash” with “used-up” and “recyclable” with “still useful in its present form.” This is untrue: Most plastics, paper, and metals will be radically altered in the recycling process.
- Shards of glass are just as recyclable as whole bottles—check out this GIF set to see how this recycling works.
- Whole, torn, crumbled, and shredded paper all goes to the same paper mill to be recycled. Follow the “paper trail” with this video.
- Plastics are all eventually broken down and melted to remove dirt and grime. Watch this video on how plastic bags are recycled.
- All aluminum is crushed before being reprocessed. Watch “the story of aluminum recycling” here.