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Sustainability Lesson Clearinghouse

The Landfill Debate

Lesson Description:
  • Differentiate between a garbage dump and municipal solid waste (MSW) landfill.
  • Identify and describe the problems and concerns people have about burying trash in landfills and justify their position on the matter.
  • Evaluate the EPA’s five methods of integrated solid waste management and determine whether the EPA’s recommendation concerning landfills is justified.

Lesson Type:
  • Project

Sustainability Topic:
  • Waste Reduction

GEF Program Category:
  • Waste Reduction Challenge

Time Needed:
60 minutes
Standards Addressed:
Geography Standard 15: Understand how physical systems affect human systems.
Benchmark # 4: Understand relationships between population density and environmental quality (e.g., the denser the population the greater the amount of waste produced and the need to dispose of it safely).

Geography Standard 16: Understand the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution and importance of resources.
Benchmark # 2: Know strategies for wise management and use of resources (e.g., community programs for recycling and reuse).
Benchmark # 5: Understand the role of technology in resource acquisition and use, and its impact on the environment (e.g., the more resources used in manufacturing results in more waste that needs to be disposed of in a safe manner).

Geography Standard 18: Understand global development and environmental issues.
Benchmark # 2: Understand the possible impact that present conditions and patterns of consumption, production and population growth might have on the future spatial organization of Earth.
Benchmark # 4: Understand why different points of view exist regarding contemporary geographic issues (e.g., some communities find the recycling and incineration of waste too costly or impractical, and use a landfill solution as one of their primary methods of disposal)

Technology Standard 3: Understand the relationship among science, technology, society and the individual.
Benchmark # 3: Know ways in which technology has influenced the course of history (e.g., improvements in sanitation and waste management- garbage dump vs. sanitary landfill).

Health Standard 2: Know environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health.
Benchmark # 3: Know ways local, state, federal and international efforts to contain an environmental crisis and prevent recurrence (e.g., solid waste contamination).

Mathematics Standard 6: Understand and apply the basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis.
Benchmark # 5: Organize and display data using tables, graphs, diagrams, frequency distributions and plots.

Language Arts Standard 8: Use listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.
Benchmark # 5: Use grade level appropriate vocabulary in speech (e.g., specialized language).
Materials Needed:
  • Pencils and journals
  • Soil
  • Corrugated box, at least 24 inches deep
  • Two clear plastic containers, larger than the base of each box
  • Two wire racks large enough to cover the top of the plastic containers
  • Two equal size watering cans
  • Collection of inorganic material: aluminum foil, plastic sandwich bags, bottle caps, wood shavings, paper scraps, etc.
  • Collection of organic materials: plant leaves, coffee grounds or tea bags, cranberries or blueberries, onion skins, chips, crusts of bread, pastry crumbs, etc.
  • Scissors
  • Small trowel or scoop
  • Empty, clear plastic bottle
  • Water
  • The use of the model landfill constructed in the previous lesson (Middle School Day 3: What Happens to Trash in a Landfill?)

School or Group:
Green Education Foundation (GEF)
Contact Email:
Lesson Documents:
image/jpeg landfill diagram.jpg

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