Students analyse the waste they produce at school by doing a waste audit after lunch.

Learning objective

A waste audit is used to discover how much waste is produced and what kind of items are thrown away. Students learn about which items are made from plastic and how to avoid, reuse and recycle plastic items.

Curriculum links

Data representation and interpretation
Cross-curriculum priority: Sustainability

Single-use plastic, bin audit, marine life, litter

This lesson explores the amount of plastic created in a school lunch box and examples of reusable options.

Single-use plastic includes all plastic packaging that is intended only to be used once, then discarded. Reducing waste by avoiding single-use plastic fits into the avoidance section of the waste hierarchy. Single-use plastics are often difficult to recycle, so these can end up in landfill where they may never break down.

Changing our habits to avoid using single-use plastics is a great way to start reducing the amount of plastic entering our environment. Many people ‘choose to refuse’ single-use plastics such as bottled water, drinking straws and plastic shopping bags. Options such as reusable water bottles, metal or paper straws and reusable bags are becoming more common.

In 2017, Keep Australia Beautiful and the Tangaroa Blue Australian Marine Debris Initiative reported that more than 75 per cent of the rubbish collected on Western Australian beaches was plastic.

Bins to collect school rubbish until after lunch

Newspaper or tarpaulin to tip rubbish onto

Tongs or gloves to sort rubbish

Maths workbook or device to record data

  1. Set up special bins in the classroom and junior outdoor play area until after lunch to collect a sample of what is thrown away at school.
  2. After lunch, spread out contents of the bins on sheets of newspapers or a large tarpaulin.
  3. Students observe the items and discuss:
    • Which items look similar?
    • Can the items be grouped? What can the groups be called? (food scraps, plastic, paper)
  4. Use the categories decided by the students to create labels and display on the tarpaulin or newspapers.
  5. Ask volunteers to divide the rubbish into the correct classifications. Use tongs or gloves.
  6. Ask students to write the headings in their Maths book and count the items in each pile. Use tallies to record the data. Students can work in pairs. You could weigh some items too.
  7. Looking at the data collected as a class discuss:
    • Which pile is the biggest? Why?
    • What kind of items are in the biggest plastic pile?
    • How can the plastic pile be made smaller?
  8. Discuss avoid, reuse, and recycle. How can they avoid plastic? For example, bring a reusable container or say no to plastic bags and straws.
  9. Write these examples down and have students create their plastic free pledges. They can design their own pledges, or templates can be found at the back of the Plastic Free July activity guide on the Waste Wise Schools website. Display around the classroom for parents to see.

Consider inviting the whole school to participate in Plastic Free July.