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Municipal Solid Waste

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is commonly called garbage, trash or rubbish. MSW is what you find in your home trash can such as paper, plastic, glass, metal cans, boxes, clothing, food waste, yard waste, wrapping, appliances, furniture etc...

In Cuyahoga County, residents and businesses generate over 3.4 million tons of waste each year. Most of the waste is disposed of in 21 different landfills outside of Cuyahoga County.

An average person throws away five pounds of trash per day. What would your classroom produce?
5.0 pounds x no. of students = lbs./class per day.
5.0 pounds x no. of students and staff in school = lbs./school per day.
_____ lbs./school per day x 365 days per year =_________lbs./school per year.

Since 2,200 pounds = 1 ton, how many tons of waste does your school contribute to the County’s 3.4 million tons?

A school with 250 students and staff produce 1,250 lbs./day and 456,250 lbs./year.This is 207.4 tons of waste for the school in a year.

Modern landfills have safety measures to limit environmental and human health problems. They are built with protective liners, which prevent leachate, a toxic liquid from seeping into the soil and groundwater below. A leaking landfill can poison rivers, streams and groundwater, which also can be people’s drinking water. Pipes are strategically placed throughout the landfill to extract methane, a flammable gas. Methane gas can explode causing fires. Finally, waste is covered daily with a thick layer of soil to prevent odors and litter and eliminate scavenging animals. To learn more about trash view or order Tracking Trash.

Municipal Solid Waste Classroom Activities (K-3, 4-8, 9-12)

Grades K-3 Disappearing Trash


Students will learn which types of waste are biodegradable.


Garden soil or compost; Markers, crayons or stickers; Containers: yogurt, dixie cups, clear cups or egg cartons

Test Materials

Tissue, fabric scrap, cotton, newspaper strip, fruit or vegetable scarp, toothpick, foil, plastic wrap, cardboard, leaves, candy wrapper, rubber and a marble.


Biodegradable, Decay, Decomposer


  1. Illustrate the amount of trash each student produces in a day by passing around something that weights about five pounds. Or, what a weeks worth of student’s trash would look like by having a student step into a trash bag and hold it open.
  2. Discuss that materials in landfills will decay slowly, if at all.  Refer to Tracking Trash
  3. Decaying Experiment:
    1. Organize students into pairs or teams.
    2. Each team will label 4 cups with the materials that they will be testing.
    3. Test materials should be placed in labeled cups and covered with soil. Keep soil moist during the experiment.
    4. Create a student handout or poster, so students can record: the team’s testing materials, the materials students predict will decay, and have students predict the order that materials will decay.
  4. Observations can be recorded once a week or at the end of the month.


One class period; month to two month observation


Compare what the students predicted to what happened with the materials. Did the materials stay the same? Change? Or complete decay? Discuss why certain material did not decay. Why is it important when we use and throw away materials in the trash? Share ideas about substitutes for non-biodegradable products such as bringing your lunch in a cloth bag, using a thermos or water bottle, and storing leftovers in a reusable containers.


Demonstrate how much packaging comes with certain products such as a lunchable. Unwrap a product, show or weigh the amount of packaging. Discuss that students should look for products that can be reused, recycled or have minimal packaging.

Grades 4-8 Are you helping our environment?


Students will learn what habits can improve the environment.


Pen, paper, graph paper, ruler, colored markers or pencils.


Degrade, Habit, Survey


  1. Brainstorm habits that impact the environment. Good habits are walking instead of driving, recycling and buying items with little packaging. Bad habits include littering, putting used motor oil down the drain or leaving the water run while you brush your teeth or wash the dishes.
  2. Handout habit survey for students to complete individually by answering yes or no.

    Habit Survey
    1. I save my soda pop and juice bottles, so I can put them into a recycling bin.
    2. When I see litter on the ground, I leave it there because it did not come from me.
    3. I put all materials that I throw away into the garbage can.
    4. I sometimes reuse trash to make a game, craft or something useful.
    5. When I rake leaves, they are composted in my backyard or by the city.
    6. I throw away food that could be eaten later as leftovers.
    7. I separate materials such as metal cans, plastic containers, newspaper and glass from other trash items and recycle them.
    8. I throw away paper or plastic bags after I put away items that I bought from a store.
    9. I refill plastic bottles with water or juice.
    10. I donate my clothing that I no longer wear or use some as cleaning rags.
    11. I have thrown trash on the ground when there is not a trash can.
    12. I donate my old or unwanted games to charity.
    13. I pick up litter that is on ground, even though I did not put it there.
    14. I compost vegetable, fruit and bread scraps when I am done cooking or eating.
    15. I always take a bag from the store, even if I only bought one small item.
    16. I help friends and family to recycle.
    17. I write on both sides of the paper before putting it into the recycling bin.
    18. I sometimes throw items out of the car window.
    19. I look for the recycling arrows when I buy products or encourage my parents to buy recycled products.
    20. I bring my lunch in a cloth bag or thermal lunch tote.
  3. Once everybody has completed the survey, tally the Yes and No answers by a show of hands and mark the number on the board.
  4. Have students create a bar graph of the classroom’s environmental habits. On the horizontal axis, create space for two bars and label yes and no for each question. The number of students should be labeled in increments along the vertical axis. Students should color the bar graph green for answers that help the environment and color the answers red that degrade the environment. Color the bar green for yes to questions 1, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19 and 20. Also, color the bar green for no answers to 2, 3, 6, 8, 11, 15 and 18. Green shows that your habits help improve the environment.  


One or two class periods


  • Have the class compare survey questions by analyzing the graphs. Which habits that improve the environment did the class score the highest? Why? Which habits that degrade the environment did the class score the highest? Why?
  • Ask how students can encourage good environmental habits in themselves and others.


Have students write a pledge to improve their habits. Redistribute the pledges on earth day or at the end of the year as a reminder. Brainstorm how to make your school more sustainable.

Grade 9-10 Investigating Solid Waste (ISW): Where on Earth

This activity is good for earth science classes or students with earth science background.


Beside the physical reasons for sighting landfills, what are the social implications of sighting a landfill in a community? How can they prevent the need for new landfills?

Web Resources for MSW

Calendar of Events

What Do I Do With...? 
Find the answer to your biggest recycling question.

Household Hazardous Waste Disposal Program
City Service Departments

February 15, 2016
Holiday -- County offices closed

March 16, 2016
Waste & Recycling Sense for Business seminar

April 1-30, 2016
Recycle Your Computer Month

April 17, 2016
Earth Day Coalition's Earthfest
Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds

April 22, 2016
Happy Earth Day!


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