Recycle Today!
An Integrated Unit of Study

Phyllis Vaccaro Jordan

Background for Teachers

A resident of the United States generates approximately four pounds of trash per day, seven tons per year.1 The most effective way to combat the detrimental effects of dumping or burning trash is to reduce, reuse, and recycle solid waste. For example, we can reduce solid waste by buying goods in bulk, thus reducing the amount of paper and plastic used in the packaging of each item. We can reuse materials by, for example, trading in old car tires, which can often be retreaded, rather than dumping them in a landfill. Things that can’t be reduced or reused can often be recycled. For example, plastic milk jugs cannot be safely refilled, but they can be melted down and made into other plastic objects like park benches—or maybe even new milk jugs.

When an item is recycled it goes back to a factory to be remade into a new object. Significant environmental advantages are realized through recycling. Recycling saves natural resources.2 About one-half of our solid waste is composed of paper products. For each ton of paper that is recycled, seventeen trees are saved. In the United States, the paper industry cuts down about 850 million trees each year to make paper products. Approximately one-fourth of our solid waste is metal, glass, and plastic, which can also be recycled. The remaining quarter of solid waste is matter that could be composted (like rotting food) or should not or cannot be recycled (like medical waste).

Recycling saves energy. Recycling an aluminum can, for example, conserves the energy needed to mine, transport, and purify that ore. It takes 90 percent less energy to recycle aluminum cans than to make new ones.3 The process of recycling a metal also creates less air and water pollution than does the process of mining and purifying ore.4 Finally, recycling also saves money and creates jobs.5


Teaching Standards and Goals

The “Recycle Today” unit of study, for preschool or kindergarten classes, addresses several of the social studies standards developed by National Council for the Social Studies.6 Standard 1 Culture, will be briefly addressed as children learn about the Native Americans’ respect of nature and value of the land. Whenever possible, literature will include multicultural perspectives. Relating to Standard 2 Time, Continuity and Change, children will learn that the process of eliminating trash has changed over time from open dumping to landfills, from open burning to incineration and from a throw-away society to one that recycles materials. Standard 3 People, Places and Environments designs to promote an understanding of how people affect and interact with the environment. Children will experience alternative uses of resources as they begin to develop an understanding of the importance of using landfills responsibly. Standard 6 addresses Science, Technology and Society. Children will explore the basics of how recycling works and why it is a desirable technology. Finally, within Global Connections, Standard 9, children will learn about the need to protect our Earth from pollution and conserve its resources.

Clearly, these national standards are lofty goals for students. Integrating all areas of the curriculum, the unit will be presented with the intent of developing very basic interest in and understanding of the efforts we can all make to preserve natural resources and “Recycle Today.” Through hands-on experiences, exploration and dramatic role-playing activities, children will develop an understanding of:


An Interdisciplinary Approach

Throughout the following unit of study, there should be continual reinforcement of the need to reduce trash, to keep our world clean and to increase recycling (which saves natural resources such as trees). This can be accomplished through all areas of the unit of study, such as language and literature, math, science, social studies, and the arts. Activities can be presented in large and small groups, in structured and open-ended play. The classroom can be arranged to present multiple opportunities for children to explore and experience many aspects of recycling. Activities are designed within the scope of developmentally appropriate practice and address various skills and learning styles.


Introductory Activities

Before the first lesson of the unit, the teacher assembles a bag full of “trash” that includes many items that can be reused or recycled (Table 1). During circle time, tell the children that a friend left a mysterious bag in the room and you are not sure what to do with the bag’s contents. Dump the contents into the middle of the circle and ask the children to guess why these things are all in a bag. Confirm that this is a bag of “trash,” but assure them at this point that you have washed everything.

Ask the children what happens to trash. Some of the children will likely suggest ways to recycle or reuse items. Some will suggest going to the dump or just putting it in the wastebasket. Discuss with them the difference between trash that must be thrown away (and brought to a landfill or incinerated) and things that could be recycled or reused. Point out the recycling triangle imprinted on many plastic items. Have children select items from the pile and decide if they should put them in the recycle box or wastebasket. Sing a song about picking up trash such as one from Peterson’s Sing a Song of Nature.7 Invite children to toss items into the appropriate containers. At another group meeting, discuss with the children the difference between dumps and landfills and incinerators. Where Does the Garbage Go? by Paul Showers includes simple explanations and illustrations that will assist the children’s understanding of these methods of trash disposal.

Read Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp of the Iroquois Nations to introduce the students to how Native American traditions value the Earth, which includes the ground but also water, air, animals, and plants. The message is presented as a prayer of thanksgiving for nature and for all people. Let the children share the things for which they are thankful. Validate all of their ideas. Ask the children how the people in the story would feel if the Earth, air and water were no longer clean. What might happen to the plants and animals? Lead children to understand that improperly disposed trash is harmful to the Earth. Later, encourage children to draw pictures of things for which they are thankful.


Language Arts

In addition to Giving Thanks, there is a variety of books available that appropriately present recycling to students. The Earth and I by Frank Asch also talks about the gifts of nature and presents the Earth as a friend. The reader observes sadness when the Earth is littered and happiness when it has again been cleaned. Themes of friendship and feelings can also be explored following this story. Children could be encouraged to draw pictures or talk about how they can be the Earth’s friends.

Books such as Recycle! by Gail Gibbons and Where Does the Garbage Go? describe trash collection (past and present), dumps, landfills, incineration, recycling, and reusing materials. The books can be read in sections or completely to present specific knowledge that will be followed up with other activities. Vocabulary words such as “litter,” “biodegradable,” “landfill,” incinerator,” “recycle” and “compost” are presented in these books as well.

The Gift by John Pratter is a delightfully illustrated picture book that shows two children receiving a gift (two chairs) packaged in a large cardboard box. The box becomes more of a gift as the children reuse it in their play. They climb in and pretend to travel into the city, fly beside and above a train, travel through a tunnel, to the ocean, underwater, to the jungle and home again. Students will enjoy their own fantasy world if given a large box to play in. After they have had a couple of days to enjoy their box, children could make their own picture books (or a single page of a class book) detailing their journeys. The teacher should write the descriptions as the children dictate.

Don Madden’s The Wartville Wizard humorously relays an anti-litter message. Its illustrations include people of different ethnicities and socioeconomic status, thus posing the message to everyone. A Pig Tale by Olivia Newton-John and Brian Hurst is about a pig that collects all sorts of junk to the dismay of his family. When at last he finds a creative way to reuse it all, he becomes a hero. Students will also find this story funny. Garbage Collectors by Paulette Bourgeois and Kim LaFave tells the story of the work accomplished by Sam and Mabel as they collect garbage, look for items that should be recycled, and retrieve Mrs. Green’s false teeth from the trash. Mabel is the truck driver, which is a non-traditional job for a woman. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein takes a more serious approach to the value of trees. When read in conjunction with activities related to making paper, children will be introduced to trees as a natural resource that takes years to replenish. This book cannot be read without also addressing the good feeling one gets when giving and caring for another being. Point out that trees are a renewable resource: the boy (who becomes an old man in the story) could have planted apple seeds.

In addition to sharing these and other pieces of literature, it is important to include specific language-based activities. Children should have opportunities to dictate stories or descriptions of their drawings or sculptures as they create them. Circle time is an appropriate time for children to share their family experiences about recycling or going to the landfill. This is also a good time for children to share creative ideas of how to reuse materials. Let them express their ideas either through drawings or actually using the items as they suggested. Encourage the use of new vocabulary words as children describe recyclable materials such as plastic, glass, metal or paper. Ask them to tell what they might do with certain pieces of “trash.” Play the game “What’s in the grocery bag?” in which children can throw a bean bag into a recycling box each time they identify an item as recyclable or suggest a way to reuse it. While playing this game, children will have an opportunity to learn to use descriptive words or give hints without saying the name of the item. Sorting recyclable materials into similar groups, such as all papers or all plastics, children will develop or extend their understanding of the task of categorizing.



Mathematical thinking can also be addressed as children work to recycle. Explain to the children that there is so much trash thrown away each day it is equivalent to about four pounds per person. Invite children to pick up blocks and guess how many blocks would be four pounds. After they have explored various amounts, add blocks one at a time onto a scale until it reads four pounds. Additional weighing activities could include weighing the classroom trash or a day’s worth of recycled items collected in the school.

Equally sized cans or bottles could be used as non-standard units of measure. Children can explore the length of the classroom rug, for example, based on how many cans are needed to measure it. There are many opportunities to extend counting and sorting skills using these items as well. Children can sort recycled materials by size, color, shape, content, and use. In the game “Jump to Recycle!” children will match, jump, and count. Before the activity begins, the teacher tapes large pictures of a plastic soda bottle, and a can, and a page from a newspaper to the floor. A student takes a small picture of one of these items from a bag. He or she then jumps to the matching large picture and then glues or tapes the small picture to a bar chart (the “bars” being the growing stacks of sorted items). After many jumps, children will count how many times they recycled each kind of material.

Recycling easily lends itself to sequencing activities. The process of using glass, plastic, metal, or paper, sending it to recycling factories and receiving a new product made from the old completes a sequence. Children can use stickers or pictures to illustrate a sequence: a plastic soda bottle, a recycling bin, and a plastic chair made from the recycled bottle. A sequence showing a tree, paper, a recycling bin, and cardboard illustrates the fate of paper.



An activity can be explored with a focus on the meaning of biodegradable materials. Invite the children to “plant” several objects in a dirt-filled glass planter (or old aquarium), right up against the glass. For example, offer them an apple slice, a piece of bread, a marble, a cornstarch packing chip, a plastic toy or button, small pieces of paper foil, and large seeds (from a packet of seeds for gardens) such as beans or corn.8 Ask children what they think will happen to the buried objects. List their predictions and record their observations over several weeks on a chart. Sing “Recycling Round” (from Gazlay’s Singing Songs of Science) to introduce the term “biodegradable.”

In an activity that promotes problem solving and critical thinking, children can engage in “Use it Again” as described in Primarily Earth by the AIMS Foundation. The teacher should ask each child to select a piece of “trash” from a collection, describe it, and suggest how it could be reused. Encourage children to draw their ideas and, if possible, actually reuse their piece as they suggested.

Instead of discarding cardboard tubes, use them for all sorts of activities. Cardboard tubes offer several opportunities for scientific investigation. Children can observe the action of various lengths of tubes as they are rolled down a ramp. What happens is if you try to roll a crushed tube? Does it change when one tube is filled with crayons? What happens when you drop a tube on the floor? How many different sounds do you hear when tapping tubes of different sizes? What do you see when you look through tubes? What do you hear when you listen through tubes? What happens when you put something inside a tube? When given a box full of tubes to play with, children will engage in a variety of spontaneous play. By asking open-ended questions, the teacher will facilitate their exploration and promote development of scientific concepts.

Because trees are a familiar natural resource for children, it is important to describe the manufacture of paper and discuss the need to recycle paper, plant new trees, and care for the ones we have. An ongoing observation of trees in or near the school yard will help children become more aware of trees as an important part of nature, not only for their beauty, but also for shade, sometimes for food and for animal homes. Young trees often have their bark scraped off by the wheels of passing lawnmowers. Students can protect a young tree from this hazard by shielding it at the ground level with two-foot lengths of plastic drainage tube (that have been split open along the side by an adult beforehand).

Older children can learn that trees give us the “air” (oxygen) that we need to breathe. Stress the importance of caring for our trees. Students will have difficulty comprehending the vast number of trees that are cut down every year to make paper products, but most of them will understand that “millions” represents a lot. Children should also develop an understanding of the length of time it takes to grow a tree. If possible, plant a sapling and some marigolds or other quick growing flowers. Compare the growth over time. Some paper companies have made a commitment to use only trees from tree farms (as well as recycled paper) in their manufacture of new paper, thus leaving wild forests alone.

While investigating trees, children could make bird feeders from recycled milk cartons. While involved in this project, teach the children simple songs or poems about birds. Select rhymes that encourage movement activities.

Children will enjoy making recycled paper. Using paper from the class recycle box, have the children tear paper into small pieces. Ask the children to predict what will happen when the teacher pours water onto the paper. Mix about one cup of water with two cups of compressed paper bits in a blender and blend until the mixture is smooth. Pour the contents onto a framed screen (a deckle) allowing the water to drain out. Using a rolling pin, smooth the paper. Let it dry for a couple of days and then let children draw on it.9 During the process ask the children to predict what they think will happen with each step. Ask them to describe the colors they see, the textures they feel and the odors they smell. While children should not operate the blender, they should participate in all other aspects of the project.


Social Studies

While “Recycle Today” is a unit of study based on addressing the social studies standards, it obviously includes many areas of study. However, there are some specific activities that can be included to reinforce recycling within the context of the social sciences. It is important for students to develop an understanding of the various roles that people play in our society and that people need to work cooperatively for the benefit of all. Most children are aware of the trash collectors who arrive at their houses and empty their barrels. Some children may have been to the local landfill.

Having learned about recycling and reusing materials, children will be ready to role-play several jobs. Invite a couple of children to be solid waste collectors. Give them small containers and ask them to fill them with small toys or art materials that they will pretend that they no longer need. Other students can pretend to be workers at the recycling factory. They will receive the “solid waste” and sort it into piles of recyclable materials.

Another way for children to get a first-hand look at what happens to solid waste is to ask the school custodian to give the children a tour of the schoo#146;s solid waste collection equipment and facilities. Encourage the children to ask what happens to glass, plastic, paper and metal. What does the school recycle? How much does the school recycle and throw away? Who separates these materials? Where does the material go once it is emptied from the class bins? How often do collectors come to school? Children often love the school custodian because he or she brings the class things that they need like paper towels, soap, and paper. She also fixes things for the classroom. This will be a good opportunity for the children to learn more about her role in the school as well as about how what we throw away affects the rest of the school.

Dramatic play is also an effective experience in which children can learn about jobs and community interactions. Ask parents to send in clean, empty containers from items they have purchased at the grocery store and paper and plastic bags to be reused in the classroom grocery store. Using boxes for shelves, have the children sort items by category and put them on the shelves. Provide coupons and paper for writing shopping lists, shopping carts and/or baskets and a cash register with play money. Have the children paint a large box. To make this a recycling box for soda bottles and cans, cut a hole in it large enough for a two liter bottle to slip through and line the hole with foam. If space allows, have paper and metal collection boxes available in the grocery store. Small cereal boxes can be made into money pouches for the children. Encourage children to write lists, to shop for what they need and to think about what they could do with the package once emptied. (This is a good opportunity to also discuss nutrition.) Children love to use the cash register, pretending to be the cashier. Taking turns will need to be encouraged. Depending on the developmental levels of the children, coin values and counting can also be addressed.

To help children begin to understand the global importance of reducing pollution and saving natural resources, children first need to develop an understanding of the world beyond their home town. Using an inflatable globe, play Recycle Today toss. Point out the different colors indicating land and water formations and the very small area where they live. As children toss or roll and catch the globe, ask them to notice if their hands are on land (green) or water (blue). Congratulate them for saving the Oacute;nd or water and invite them to suggest what they could have done. Encourage use of new vocabulary such as solid waste, litter, recycled paper, plastic or metal; reused plastic, or used biodegradable materials.

Find out about recycling services in your community. The county solid waste office or cooperative extension will have information and possibly other resources like fliers for handouts and guest speakers that may be able to address your class or a school assembly.


Community Service Learning

While discussing ways to keep our world clean, encourage children to talk about the importance of not littering and of picking up litter when they see it. Children can help to keep the play areas clean for children and community members who use the playground. After making bags for collecting litter (from old paper bags), have children pick up litter on the school playgrounds. (First, however, staff should determine that objects are safe for the children to pick up.) Some of these items might be recycled. If needed, ask the PTA to request a purchase order for waste receptacles for the playground and school yard.

Ask parents to donate returnable soda bottles and cans for children to collect in the classroom’s dramatic play store’s recycling center. If beverage containers can be returned for a cash deposit in your state, your recycling activities can be a fund raiser.

Ask parents to save and donate paper grocery bags. Students can decorate the bags using stickers, sponge-painted shapes, or brushes. Label each bag indicating that they were decorated by children as part of a recycling project. Have the children donate their decorated bags to a local grocery store to be reused by their customers.

While talking about the importance of preserving trees, consider helping the children to plant a tree. Involving the PTA, the schoo#146;s custodian, and your county’s cooperative extension office might be helpful in planning such a project. Follow up by writing a schedule of care for the trees and keeping a record of their growth.


The Arts

Although many art and music activities have already been mentioned, here are several more that will promote development of fine motor skills and build on the various concepts presented in the unit.

When first introducing the unit of study, ask parents to help their child collect objects that could be reused in art activities. Suggest cardboard tubes, egg cartons, small boxes, packaging materials, etc. Leave a large box in the art area where children can deposit these items. Also send home a small bag for children to use when collecting small items that could be used for an art project, but might have otherwise been thrown away. Children could look for bottle caps, broken jewelry, empty thread spools, corks, small pieces of yarn or string, and the like. On the bags, attach a poem about recycling (see Beautiful Stuff! by Topal and Gandini).

When enough items have been collected, give the children opportunity to explore the materials. Encourage them to sort them by size, color, shape, or use. Keep separate containers for each category in order to help the children organize their creative thoughts. Read A Pig Tale by Newton-John and Hurst and invite children to build something new from the recycled materials. Small items might be used to make designs, patterns, animals, or faces, for example. Large materials could be sculpted into machines, toys, animals, or land formations. Let the children’s imaginations be the basis of their projects. Provide glue, tape, paint, or whatever additional materials are necessary to help with their creations. Since some of the constructions might be fragile, encourage children to preserve their project by drawing a picture of it, or take a snapshot.

Paper bags can be used in art projects beyond those already suggested. For example, children can use pieces cut from bags to make greeting cards to give to friends or parents. Children can also reuse paper bags to make puppets, decorations, scrap books, masks, animals, and many other creative ideas. Cardboard tubes can similarly be reused. The Boyd Mills Press series Look What You Can Make with Tubes (also Paper Bags, Boxes and Paper Plates) is an excellent resource.

Some of the objects that are donated might also be used as paint instruments. Children can make beautiful designs by dipping tubes, spools, or egg cartons into paint and stamping their shapes onto paper. By just making the materials available, children will develop their own ideas of how to use them.

Children might also enjoy making their own “marbleized” stationery. Have children use a pipette to drop paint on a piece of waxed paper. Place plain paper on top and roll a rolling pin over it. The paint will spread on the paper creating unique stationery that the child can later use for drawing or “writing” a letter to someone.

In addition to singing several songs related to recycling, children can dance to Native American music or move to other music, pretending they are trees swaying in the wind. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons provides different rhythms for the children to dance to throughout the year. Many of the recycled materials can be used to make rhythm instruments. Fill tubes with beans to make maracas. Tap tubes of different lengths for different sounds and rhythms. Tap pieces of cardboard or plastic bottles together. Blow air across the mouths of bottles to make a whistle sound. Fill bottles with different amounts of water and tap them to play a tune. Even crumpling paper can be used rhythmically. Once again, allow the children’s creative instincts to lead the way to new musical instruments. Once everyone has completed an instrument, have a parade to celebrate Earth or engage in various rhythm activities.

As a culminating activity, have children prepare, produce, and present a play about recycling. They could dramatize one of their favorite stories or write their own play based on the knowledge they have gained throughout the unit. The teacher should ask children for their ideas and facilitate the development of a short script. Incorporate the songs the children have learned. Have the children make costumes, props, and scenery using as many recycled materials as possible. Invite parents and friends to the production.


Home-School Connection

No early childhood unit of study is complete without including ways to involve parents. Throughout the unit encourage parents to help their children locate and collect recyclable, reusable items for the classroom. Their help is extremely important if the class is to have enough material to complete all of the projects suggested. While one would hope that the children are bringing home ideas about recycling, teachers should encourage parents to talk with their children about the ways they are recycling. Sending home information about trash and recycling might be informative and helpful to some parents.


Assessment and Extension Ideas

While this unit of study is designed to take place over a three to four week period, the process of encouraging recycling and reusing materials and reducing trash can and should occur throughout the year. The more experience children receive, the more this becomes part of their routine. Children are also more likely to bring these reinforced concepts home and encourage their families to recycle as well. Other units could easily extend from the Recycle Today unit of study. For example, a more in-depth study of trees, plants, and animal habitats could logically develop. Children would also enjoy a study of authors and illustrators, such as Eric Carle and Leo Lioni, who use torn paper to illustrate their books. The Japanese art of origami might also be fun for students if some of the simpler designs are demonstrated.

Throughout the Recycle Today unit of study, children enjoy hands-on experiences that promote learning about the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling. By developing a basic awareness in students, teachers are forming a foundation upon which more advanced learning can happen. Their understanding should be assessed through teacher observation and documentation of behaviors. Are children beginning to show concern over the cleanliness of their play space and the school yard? Are they recycling their used papers and scraps instead of throwing them in the trash? Are they caring for newly planted trees, and not breaking branches or pulling off leaves? Are they picking up papers left on the playground? These kinds of behaviors indicate that children have learned that they have a responsibility to respect the environment, to keep the Earth clean, and to preserve its resources for plants, animals, and children of the future.



1. Massachusetts Recycling Coalition, Massachusetts Recycles Day Recycling Facts (Boston, MA: MassRecycle, MRC, 2000).
( Click on “Recycling Facts.”)

2. J. Foster, Cartons, Cans and Orange Peels. Where Does Your Garbage Go? (New York: Clarion Books, 1991).

3. G. Gibbons, Recycle! A Handbook for Kids (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1992).

4. R. Dennison, “Environment Life Cycle Comparisons of Recycling, Landfilling, and Incineration: A Review of Recent Studies,” Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 21, 1996: 191-237.

5. Massachusetts Recycling Coalition.

6. National Council for the Social Studies, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (Washington, DC: NCSS, 1994).

7. All children’s literature is cited in “Suggested Books and Records,” below.

8. The plastic foam “peanuts” used for packing are gradually being replaced by starch “peanuts” which dissolve in water and are biodegradable.

9. J. Wendt, “Recycled Paper: An Ask Eric Lesson Plan.” (Washington, DC: ERIC, 1998). (On the web, go to and search under “Wendt,” or go to; Blakey, N. The Mudpies Activity Book. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press, 1994.


Suggested Books and Records
(Citations marked * are for teachers)

Asch, Frank. The Earth and I. New York: Scholastic, 1994.

Bittinger, G. 1-2-3 Science. Torrance, CA: Warren Publishing House, 1993.*

Bittinger, G. Our World. Everett, WA: Warren Publishing House. 1990.*

Blakey, N. The Mudpies Activity Book. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press, 1994.*

Bourgeois, P. and K. LaFave. Garbage Collectors. New York: Kids Can Press, 1998.

Burke, J. and M. H. Richmond. Look What You Can Make with Paper Bags. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 1997.*

{enison, R. “Environmental Life-Cycle Comparisons of Recycling, Landfilling and Incineration: A Review of Recent Studies,” Annual Review Energy Environment 21 (1996): 191-237.*

Foster, J. Cartons, Cans, and Orange Peels. Where Does Your Garbage Go? New York: Clarion Books, 1991.

Gazlay, S. Singing Songs of Science. Fresno,CA: AIMS Foundation, 1995.

Gibbons, Gail. Recycle! A Handbook for Kids. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1992.

Hoover, E. and S. Mercier. Primarily Earth. Fresno, CA: AIMS Foundation, 1996.*

Madden, Don. The Wartwille Wizard. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1993.

Newton-John, Olivia and Brian Hurst. A Pig Tale. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1999.

Peterson, D., and J. Warren. Sing a Song of Nature. Torrence, CA: Totline Publications, 1998.

Pratter, John. The Gift. New York: Viking Kestrel, 1986.

Richmond, M. H. Look What You Can Make with Paper Plates. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 1997.*

Richmond, M. H. Look What You Can Make with Tubes. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 1997.*

Showers, Paul. Where Does the Garbage Go? New York: HarperCollins Juvenile Books, 1994.

Silverstein, Shel. The Giving Tree. New York: Harper Collins, 1964.

Siomades, L., and M. H. Richmond. Look What You Can Make with Boxes. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 1997.*

Topal, C. W., and L. Gandini. Beautiful Stuff: Learning with Found Materials. Worcester, PA: Davis Publications, Inc. 1999.

Swamp, Chief Jake. Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message. New York: Scholastic, 1995.


Suggested Website Resources for Teachers

Earth Day Project Library, “Earth Day Grocery Bags.”

Environmental Defense Fund. “Buy Recycled...And Save.”

Grammer, D. “Recycling and Waste Management Lesson Plans.” El Paso, TX: Office of Pollution Prevention and Recycling, 1997.

Wendt, J. “Recycled Paper: An Ask ERIC Lesson Plan.” Washington, DC: ERIC, 1998. Search on “Wendt” at or go right to


Phyllis Vaccaro Jordan is an early childhood/special education teacher at Sunderland Elementary School and a doctoral student in Child and Family Studies in Education at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Table 1. Contents of the Mysterious Bag

Item Preparation and notes Where it can go
Used plastic toy Washed Reuse, give it away
Newspaper Wrapped up with rubber band Recycle paper
Soup can Washed, sharp edges flattened Recycle iron and tin
Jelly jar* Washed Recycle glass
Milk jug* Washed and flattened a bit Recycle plastic
Plastic soda bottle* Washed Recycle plastic
Cereal box Flattened and torn a bit Recycle cardboard
Potatoes† Washed, black paint spots Compost or trash
Paper towel Crumpled and spotted with “grease” trash
Waxed paper Crumpled trash
Thread spool Wooden, empty of thread Reuse for art or craft
Old beads Flatten sharp edges Reuse for art, beading
Styrofoam egg carton* Washed Reuse for art or trash

* Check with the county solid waste office to see if these items can be recycled in your area. In some states, beverage containers can be returned to stores for a cash refund.

† Ask the children to pretend that the potatoes are rotting. Black spots can be painted on to the vegetable to help with the illusion of decay.