Litter and How it Effects the Environment

Lauren Myers

November 17, 1998

1. Description: The main focus of this lesson is land pollution (litter) and how it effects the environment. This is a hands-on investigation lesson that allows the students to explore their own environment and research the answers to the following questions:

a) What is litter?

b) Where does litter come from?

c) Why is littering harmful?

d) Is littering a behavior that can be changed?

This is an environmental science lesson that will allow students to discover more about land pollution, how littering occurs on a daily basis, and how the students can help prevent litter.

2. Grade level: This lesson was taught in a second and third grade multi-age classroom. It was appropriate for this level because it meets standards from both grades' curriculum standards in the Alabama Course of Study.

3. Background Information:

The decade of the 1980's brought a new awareness and concern for our environment. The 1990's will be a time of growth and change as we commit ourselves to solving the problems of clean air, water, and the disposal of our waste.

The problem of waste certainly is not an isolated one. It involves each and every one of us. Imagine what it would be like if we could not get rid of waste. It would continue to collect in our homes and on our streets, creating unsightly and unhealthy conditions.

The waste disposal problem is integrated into all that we do. Rarely do we stop and think about the impact of the waste we generate daily. Communities are faced with the responsibility for the handling and safe disposal of waste from households, industries, and businesses, as well as special waste such as medical, hazardous, and nuclear. The amount that we produce each day is staggering. We can reduce the amount of waste that is produced by product reuse and product redesign to lessen material usage per unit of product. Reusing items is as simple as donating or selling old household appliances rather than discarding them. Another way to reuse products is through recycling. This activity conserves natural resources and energy through the treatment of waste products for use as raw materials. Another example of a type of waste is garbage. This is an example of food waste. Each person generates roughly three to four pounds of garbage in the United States daily.

Keeping our environment clean should be a goal for all of us. Littering is a type of land pollution and is a wrongful act that robs us of having an ideal environment. Litter is human generated solid waste in an inappropriate place (anyplace other than a proper trash receptacle such as streets, playgrounds, streams, etc…). Another way to state it simply is mishandling waste. People who participate in this act are often called "litterbugs."

People litter for various reasons. A few of these reasons include: feeling no sense of ownership for the property they litter on, it's okay to litter where someone else will clean up after them and where litter has already accumulated.

Although motorists and pedestrians are most often blamed for litter, there are several other sources that contribute to the problem. Examples of this idea are that litter is found in dumpsters, household trash handling, construction/demolition sites, uncovered vehicles, etc…

From all of these different sources, litter is carried in every direction by wind, water, and traffic. It moves until trapped by a curb, wall, fence, a row of trees, a building, or other stationary object. Once trapped, litter becomes not only an eyesore, but also an invitation for people to add more.

We can all start to help make our earth clean by preventing litter. There are several ways that one can make their community cleaner. Here are a few suggestions:

set an example by not littering, pick up one piece of litter each day, teach others the proper way to dispose of trash, carry a litterbag in your car, and so many more. One of the most successful ways to prevent littering in the community is to have an ongoing, organized program that involves local government, businesses, civic groups, and schools such as, Adopt-A-Mile.

4. Concepts: litter, recycling, reuse

Students will use investigation in science to serve a variety of purposes such as exploring their world (page 28 number 2).

Students will describe natural and human changes in the environment such as pollution (page 31 number 27).

Students will become aware of ways to deal with discarded products that create waste disposal problems such as reusing, recycling, and redesigning (page 43 number 44).

The students will learn how waste (litter) affects their life and how through recycling and reusing items the amount of waste can be dramatically decreased. Also, the students need to be able to understand the importance of putting trash in its proper place in order to live in a clean and safe environment.

Litter can cause several dangerous events to happen. Litter can physically harm people. Broken glass or metal pop tabs that have been littered at beaches, at playgrounds, or on neighborhood sidewalks can often cause cuts if children are playing barefoot. Animals always go barefoot, so broken glass or other sharp objects are very dangerous to them.

Litter can be a threat to public health; illegally dumped tires are breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry encephalitis, and disease carrying rats flourish in waste piles.

Many animals eat litter. Litter cannot be digested for energy and often blocks an animal's stomach so it dies of starvation even though its stomach is full. Animals can become caught or entangled in litter, often with deadly results.

Carelessly littered cigarette butts can totally destroy an animal's habitat by starting a fire.

Toxic substances that are littered, such as motor oil, pollute water sources, such as ponds and rivers. This pollution is a health hazard to both people and animals.

Litter is land pollution; it is an eyesore that destroys the beauty of nature.

5. Materials:

Litter from outside environment

Small garbage bags


Data chart


6. Procedure:

1. Pass out small garbage bags to the students. Take a litter walk around the school. Instruct students to pick up litter they see except sharp objects and food. (Before the activity makes sure that there is, in fact, litter around the school. If not, plant it there so your students will have something to investigate.)

2. Travel back to the classroom and instruct the students to empty their bags and arrange the items so that everyone can see them.

3. Then, have students write down the type of items that they found (ex. candy wrapper, paper cup, etc…).

4. When finished with the last step, tell students to rank the litter items they found from the "most harmful" to the "least harmful." They should consider people, animals, and the environment when deciding on an item's harmfulness. Let them discover their own criteria for labeling the items. Then, have them state why they chose one item to be "most harmful" and one item to be "least harmful."

5. When everyone has finished ranking their items, have them report their decisions to the class by moving to the back of the room for a colloquium. On a data chart, have one side for the items that students said to be "most harmful" and one side marked "least harmful." Have half of the students tell the teacher their reasons they chose items to be least harmful and the other half tell why one of their items were chosen most harmful.

6. After discussion of the data chart, the teacher will ask an open- ended question about litter and how they felt it effects the environment. The teacher will first let the students engage in conversation and merely be the guide. Then the teacher will need to discuss any concepts that the students did not touch on. The investigation will hopefully give the children a first hand awareness of litter and its presence around us. Then the children come up with the facts that they learned about litter.

7. The students will then go back to their seats and draw an illustration of how they feel litter effects the environment.

7. Assessment: As the children chart their litter on their papers, the teacher will walk around the room and see if they are recording their data properly. The teacher will assess the students also by how they participate in the colloquium and how accurately they answer the teacher-guided questions during the discussion. The teacher will assess further by how well they illustrate their idea of litter and its accuracy.

8. Internet:

Ideas for kids on how to celebrate Earth Day 1198 in their own neighborhood, such as an environmental parade to show the importance of keeping our environment beautiful.

9. Process Skills:

The students will develop questions and answers about litter.

The students will record the data they find from their investigation.

The students will communicate effectively about litter through speech and illustration.


Since the beginning the quarter, I had prepared myself for this day. I, who was far from being a master of science, was going to have to inspire and motivate my students to want to achieve and learn concepts of science. I decided to tackle a topic that I was familiar with. I chose the environment, particularly litter and its effects on the environment. I thought that I would do my lesson and everything would go as planned. Much to my surprise, it worked out that I learned a little more than I had expected from this experience.

I chose to work with four of my upper level students in my second and third grade multi-age classroom. They seemed to be excited that I was going to be working with them and that they were going to learn about science! I began by having a sack containing eleven items (paper sack, paper cup, candy wrappers, etc…), which were classified as litter, and had the students place all of them on the table. I should not have done that right from the start because they could not resist playing with them during the lesson. After they had become familiar with the items and they had discussed what each was I told them they should put their hands in their laps to resist from playing. I tried not to tell them too much about litter, in order for them to investigate and discuss among themselves their new concepts. However, I realized that since the items were already in front of them, there was little investigation. It, in a sense, was already done for them because the litter was previously collected. That was my first clue that I must adapt that change for the next time. I must have the students find the litter outside or at home for them to be able to see it as litter and truly investigate that fact.

My learning did not stop there. Although I had chosen my top students for this lesson, they had little prior knowledge of litter and the environment. When I asked them to list what was most harmful and least harmful to the environment on eof the students asked, "What is harmful?" I then realized that maybe I chose a lesson that was too challenging for these students. I wasn't going to just give up. I wanted to bring this lesson down to their level so they could understand it and learn. After that, I understood that I was going to have to guide them a little more than I had anticipated. I had originally planned on the students doing most of the lesson and me trying to be the guide only. However, I ended up leading the discussion and posing questions to them in order for them to reach the place of learning that I thought they were capable of achieving.

I realized that it would have been more beneficial to ask them to develop their own chart with their own rankings and then compare them with the others. However, this was realized after the fact and will be taught, thus, next time.

After several minutes of thorough discussion (I wanted to make sure everyone had a grasp on the concepts), I followed up the activity with a summary. I then gave them paper and had them illustrate a scene where litter was evident and harmful.

I learned in my lesson that teaching is a lot about learning. Learning what not only you as a teacher are capable of, but what you can learn from your students. When beginning my lesson today, this was not the direction that I was intending on going in. However, I learned that a good teacher must adapt her lesson to the current situation and "wing it" so to speak. This helps us to teach our students concepts that they are capable of understanding. Instead of continuing on with the lesson and "going over their heads" I taught fewer concepts but still achieved a great deal.

I was not frustrated at the end of the lesson as one might think. I was thrilled that when I checked my students' papers to see their illustrations, that they, in fact, had learned something. Their pictures and examples of litter were all correct! I did succeed as a teacher today! My students learned about litter! Chalk one up for the teacher!