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Vanderbilt’s 50 Sixth Graders Produce 22.63 Pounds of Trash in One Day

An end of year project for Vanderbilt Charter Academy Science Teacher Alicia Reyelts and her sixth-grade students had everyone participating in a day-long experiment about trash. The students had been learning about the human impact on the environment and the lessons before this experiment were about land pollution and trash.

“The sixth graders carried around an individual trash bag throughout the entire day and were expected to throw away all personal trash into this bag,” Reyelts said. “We then weighed our trash bags and analyzed and made a list of items discarded the following day. I encouraged staff to ask the students about it if they saw them, so they could explain what they were doing.”

Reyelts used a website, Teach Engineering, to help direct the project. Before doing this activity, the class had been learning about various types of pollution, including land pollution. They also did an activity where students guessed how long certain items remain in the landfill before decomposing completely and what other options there are instead of throwing items away.

After a day of collecting trash, each student weighed their trash and completed a worksheet. Students had to write down whether their trash item was food, paper, plastic, metal, glass, or miscellaneous. Then the students had to mark whether the item was re-usable, recyclable, or non-recyclable. They also had to total up how many of each item they had.

“Then this same information was totaled for the entire class, and we calculated how much trash our single class might throw away for the entire school year,” said Reyelts. “We extrapolated that to the entire school to understand the high amount of waste that is typically disposed into landfills.  
“After one day, between our 50 sixth graders, we accumulated 22.63 pounds of trash. Many students were surprised by how many items they actually throw away each day. Our analyzation showed the most often discarded item was paper products totaling 280 out of 523 items, or 54%. Students also determined that 62% of our trash most likely could have been reused or recycled instead of thrown away.”

During the sixth-grade class discussion some ideas the students came up with to help minimize the amount of trash the school produces were:
  • Set up paper recycling bins in each classroom and encourage students to use it.
  • Set up a compost bin in the lunchroom and use the soil to:
    • Start a school garden,
    • Donate to the local Boys & Girls Club for their garden,
    • Save up the soil and on Earth Day work with the city to plant trees.
“These are great ideas that could be looked into in the future” Reyelts said. “The students were very excited about the possible opportunity to make our school and community a better place!”

Vanderbilt Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Holland, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 98 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit