Waste As A Resource

Benjamin Fackler-Adams, Skagit Valley College, Mount Vernon, WA
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Summary

This activity utilizes an approach based on the three key findings of the National Academies' report, How People Learn (see the link in Learning Goals section) to help students understand the growing impact of waste and waste disposal on our environment and economy, and examines solutions to these issues through exploration of waste as a resource and the implementation of zero-waste manufacturing/building practices.

Learning Goals

The goal of this activity is to allow college students to explore the following questions & issues:

- What are the various types of waste that our society generates?

- What are the environmental impacts and costs of this waste?

- What waste management practices are employed and how effective are they?

- What potential does waste have as a source of raw materials and as an energy resource?

- What are zero-waste processes and how effective are they?

- What effect does generation & disposal of waste have on climate change?

Science Big Ideas:

- Sources of Earth materials

- Categories of waste

- Why waste is a problem (environmental impacts etc.)

- Waste management practices and costs

- Waste as a resource and zero-waste processes and practices

- Waste as a cause of climate change

Sustainability Big Ideas:

- Cradle-to-Grave v. Cradle-to-Cradle thinking and practices
- Cumulative impacts
- Population
- Bio-mimicry

Pedagogy Big Ideas:

The three key findings of the National Academies Press publication "How People Learn" http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=9457 are:

1. Existing ideas students have about a topic must be accessed and engaged in order for new understandings about that topic to be effectively integrated into their knowledge base. This key component of learning is addressed in this activity primarily in the "INITIAL IDEAS" section(s).

2. In order to "develop competence in an area of learning", students must construct their own "deep foundation of factual knowledge" within a "strong conceptual framework". This key component of learning is addressed in this activity primarily in the "GROWING UNDERSTANDING" section(s).

3. Opportunities for learners to "monitor their understanding and progress in problem solving" through focused reflection on how new understandings were achieved are a key mechanism for gaining mastery and expertise. This key component of learning is addressed in this activity primarily in the "LEARNING REFLECTION" section(s).

Context for Use

The intended audience is non-science major college students in a class of around 20 to 50 students although it could be used in other situations provided the class-size is not too large. Working through the whole activity should take about 5 one-hour class periods with associated out-of-class activities and potential additional field trips or group activities. I have used this activity (and others like it on energy and global warming) in interdisciplinary learning community classes where we are exploring scientific concepts in a socioeconomic context. I have also used an abbreviated version of this module in my environmental geology course as part of our Earth Resources unit. Students would be able to benefit most from this activity if they have some background in the concepts of sustainability, climate change, energy resources, ground water and ground water contamination, and the socioeconomic context of consumerism (e.g. The Story of Stuff; http://www.storyofstuff.com/].

Description and Teaching Materials

Unit Activities:

Time Line: This unit is designed to take approximately two weeks (assuming three 100 minute meetings per week), but could be extended and integrated with other units using field trips, service-learning activities or further group activities.

Description:This unit consists of a series of readings, in-class worksheets, classroom discussions, reading quizzes and homework and writing assignments and student-requested lectures that utilize a partially constructivist approach to answering the question, "Is a waste a resource?"

What follows is an OUTLINE/SCHEDULE for the activities in each class session. Worksheets #1, #2, and #3 and the outline are available as downloadable .docx files.

CLASS SESSION #1: INITIAL IDEAS (75 to 100 minutes)

- 5-Minute Write or Concept Map: "What is waste?" (10 minutes)

- Small Group Sharing: Collect Three [3] Ideas (15 minutes)

- Whiteboard: "What is waste?" Student groups put their ideas on small whiteboards for sharing with the whole class. (30 - 40 minutes; depends on class size)

- Whole Class Discussion: "What is waste?" Focus is on trying to establish "What do we know?" and "What do we need to know?" (20-30 minutes)

GROWING UNDERSTANDING

- Reading Assignment #1 on waste (e.g. Ch. 17: Waste As A Resource: Waste Management in Keller, Introduction to Environmental Geology 4e (2008). End of chapter questions to be used as a study guide.

Other possible readings include:

- From Waste to Resource: An Abstract of World Waste Survey 2009, available at http://www.uncrd.or.jp/env/spc/docs/plenary3/PS3-F-Veolia_Hierso-Print%20abstract.pdf

- 15th Nationwide Survey: The State Of Garbage In America, Biocycle: Journal of Composting & Organics Recycling, April 2006

- Solid Waste Management & Greenhouse Gases: A Lifecycle Assessment, 3rd Edition, US EPA, September 2006 (assign Executive Summary only)

- Bogner, & Others, Waste Management in B. Metz, O.R. Davidson, P.R. Bosch, R. Dave, L.A. Meyer (eds), Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel, on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. (assign Executive Summary only)

CLASS SESSION #2: (100 minutes)

- Reading Quiz (~15 minutes): on Big Ideas from Reading Assignment #1.

Example Questions from chapter in Keller:

#1 - Define [2 points each]: a. BIOPERISTENCE b. COMPOSTING

#2 - What is Integrated Waste Management? [4 pts]

#3 - What are the three "R's" of sustainable waste practices? Describe each and give an example of how it might be applied? [4 pts]

#4 - What are the common methods of hazardous waste management? [4 pts]

- Reading Quiz Review(~25 minutes): Students review and score each others' answers on a 0 to 4 scale.

- In-class Worksheet #1 (remaining 60 minutes):

Task: Complete 1st and 2nd parts of In-Class Worksheet #1Waste As A Resource: In-class Worksheet #1 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 96kB Aug5 11)

Students work in groups with resources (textbook, handouts, readings, networked computers) to answer questions that focus on developing science big ideas with secondary goal of collecting questions that come up and identifying foci for further exploration. Once completed, the Instructor/Facilitator will collects and reviews (and if possible, makes comments on) Worksheet #1 in order to access students' level of understanding prior to next class period, and prepares a lecture to supplement the activity based on students responses and the questions they come up with.

NOTE: If possible, the efficiency and richness of this worksheet activity is greatly enhanced if networked computers are available to the students as they develop answers to the worksheet questions.

- Homework #1: Students work outside class with their group members to complete their group consensus answers to the Worksheet #1 questions.

- Homework #2: Students must submit a proposal for a lecture topic for the next class session. The proposal must be in the form of question. This can be emailed to the instructor or, preferably, posted to a discussion board/forum on the class online courseware site (e.g. Blackboard, Moodle, etc.) so that it can be reviewed and commented on by all students.

CLASS SESSION #3: (100 minutes)

- Worksheet #1 (and question #0 list) collected from each group

- Finish In-class Worksheet #1 (~50 minutes):

Task: Complete 3rd part of In-Class Worksheet #1 - Whole Class Discussion on Worksheet #1 topics

- Lecture/Q & A: (~50 minutes) on submitted questions & topics raised by Worksheet #1 discussion.

- Reading Assignment #2:on local/regional waste issues.

WA State "Beyond Waste" plan - http://www.ecy.wa.gov/beyondwaste/

WA State "A Field Guide To Sustainability" http://www.ecy.wa.gov/pubs/0304005.pdf

- Homework Assignment: Starting tomorrow when you wake up, maintain a "Waste Log" of everything you throw away for one week. Each item must be categorized and recorded on the "Waste Log" spreadsheet.

CLASS SESSION #4: (100 minutes)

- Reading Quiz (~15 minutes): on Big Ideas from Reading Assignment #2.

Example Questions for local/regional waste readings:

#1 - Define [2 points each]: a. SUSTAINABILITY b. HAZARDOUS WASTE

#2 - Briefly describe the four main guidelines of "The Natural Step" decision-making framework? [4 pts]

#3 - Describe how waste reduction can be beneficial to the economy? [4 pts]

#4 - What are the five main initiatives of the WA State "Beyond Waste" plan? [4 pts]

- Reading Quiz Review(~25 minutes): Students review and score each others answers on a 0 to 4 scale.

- Whole Class Discussion: "How can awareness and application of sustainability concepts reduce the impact of waste on society?" (20 minutes)

- Worksheet #1 returned. Groups spend some time (~15 minutes) reviewing and reflecting on comments.

- In-class Worksheet #2 (remaining ~25 minutes):

Task: Get started on 1st and 2nd parts of In-Class Worksheet #2Waste As A Resource: In-class Worksheet #2 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 96kB Aug5 11)

- Homework Assignment: Submit a lecture proposal, in the form of a question, to the class discussion board/forum before the next class period.

CLASS SESSION #5: (100 minutes)

- In-class Worksheet #2(~65 minutes):

Task: Complete 1st, 2nd and 3rd parts of In-Class Worksheet #2

- Worksheet #2 (and question #0 list) collected from each group

- Lecture/Q & A: (~35 minutes) on submitted questions & topics raised by Worksheet #2 discussion.

CLASS SESSION #6: (100 minutes)

- Worksheet #2 returned. Groups spend some time (~15 minutes) reviewing and reflecting on comments.

- In-class Worksheet #3(~85 minutes):

Task: Complete 1st, 2nd and 3rd parts of In-Class Worksheet #3Waste As A Resource: In-class Worksheet #3 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 96kB Aug5 11)

- Worksheet #3 (and question #0 list) collected from each group

- Homework Assignment: Submit a lecture proposal, in the form of a question, to the class discussion board/forum before the next class period.

CLASS SESSION #7: (100 minutes)

- Worksheet #3 returned. Groups spend some time (~15 minutes) reviewing and reflecting on comments.

- Lecture/Q & A(~25 minutes): on submitted lecture proposals, questions from previous classes & Worksheet #3 & general review of the topic for EXAM.

- Whole Class Discussion: (~30 minutes)

Potential topics;

"How can we reduce our waste at school, home, and work?"

"How can waste be a resource?"

"What are the barriers to realization of significant waste reduction in our community/state?"

LEARNING REFLECTION: (~30 minutes)

1. Students review their initial ideas (5-minute Write or Concept Map + ideas collected in group discussion)

2. Students reflect on how their ideas have changed with specific focus on what activities, reading etc. actually caused their understanding to change.

3. Students begin a response to a take-home portion of the EXAM by responding to the following prompt: How have your ideas about waste, its impacts on society and the environment, and its potential as a resource changed during this unit? Review your initial ideas and your exam and write about (1) how your thinking has changed, and (2) what specific activities caused your thinking to change and why?

ASSESSMENT & further LEARNING REFLECTION (during subsequent class periods)

- EXAM: multiple choice and essay questions.

...then once the EXAM is returned:

- EXAM Review: Review correct answers to exam questions, especially any questions that a high percentage of students got wrong. Have students pick one exam question and write a revised answer.

EXTENSION ACTIVITIES

Group Projects:

- Student groups gather data from the college about waste and recycling streams and assess the relative costs of land-filling vs. recycling of waste.

- Student groups do educational outreach to campus on issue of waste reduction and recycling.

- Student groups catalogue and analyze dumpster contents.

- Students analyze the greenhouse footprint of the college's waste.

Field trips:

- Garbage & recycling sorting station.

- Hazardous waste collection site

- Methane digester, e.g. Farm Power in Mount Vernon; http://www.farmpower.com/

- Sewage treatment plant

Films/Videos:

- The Story of Stuff (on-line) - consumerism and waste generation

- Tapped http://www.tappedthemovie.com/ - environmental & social justice issues with bottled water

- Bag It! http://www.bagitmovie.com/

Teaching Notes and Tips

Assessment

In addition to the formative assessments used throughout the unit, there is an exam, which I'll post eventually.

References and Resources


Evergreen State College