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Recycling Project Ideas for High School

Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

The concept of recycling is becoming more present in our society. As resources are depleted, we must be more aware of what we use daily. The following projects can help high school students think deeply about recycling and maybe even make an impact.

Recycling Projects: A Deeper Dive into Conservation

As with all science and engineering concepts, activities and lessons can help students learn the basics of recycling and how it is important to our daily lives. However, to really understand just how nuanced the topic of recycling is, students must engage in longer-term projects that get them thinking more critically about their resource consumption. The following projects can be modified to fit the needs of your high school students and can even serve as jumping-off points to other more complex projects. Do not be afraid to change the direction of a project if something organic springs up!

Researching Recycling

A great place to start a deep dive into the concept of recycling is to have students research how their local recycling systems work. A natural place to start is on the Internet. First, have students find out everything they can about what happens to materials once they are collected from recycling bins. From there, assign tasks to students in a logical fashion. For example, while you may have some students call or visit local recycling agencies to collect more information, you could have others talk to people in the neighborhood about their recycling habits.

Every so often, bring the group together to talk about what they have learned. It will become important to share information regularly in order to refocus students' efforts in discovering just how local recycling works. Several extension projects can spring out of this effort: Students could move forward with a recycling awareness drive or even work to enact a necessary reform.

For each large group meeting, ask small groups to prepare something that will convey important data to their peers. This could be a poster with preliminary research findings, the results of a questionnaire developed to gauge community recycling habits, or a graph or series of graphs that visualize important data. This step will show students the importance of organizing their data and findings in ways that can speak to other stakeholders.

  • Materials: Internet access, pen and paper, basic art supplies.

Water Bottle Conservation Project

A great way to challenge your students' organizing skills is to task them with reducing the amount of material that is recycled through a school-wide conservation project. Students can focus on anything they'd like, but single-use water bottles are generally a great item to start with. Set aside some class time for students to create a plan of action and enact it at a school-wide level. You can help recruit key figures like administration and department heads for various supports.

Students could also look outside the school walls for support (e.g., asking local businesses to financially support the purchase of reusable water bottles for each student). Social media can also be brought into the equation, and efforts along those lines have been very successful in the past. Your main duty during this project would be to offer support; allow the students to do all the organization themselves.

Early in the project, be sure to have a conversation with students about measures of success, discussing what would signify the success of the project in the short-term and in the long-term. Students will learn a lot about organizing around important causes through a project like this.

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