two trash cans side by side, one black and one blue.
3 Hours

Your mission:

Find out how plastic waste is managed in your community.


By understanding what happens to your trash, you’ll have a clear idea about what improvements to advocate for. Does your city need better access to recycling, or composting, or both? Does trash in your area get incinerated, contributing to air pollution? Does your community need better access to goods sharing programs, second-hand options, and bulk stores?

What you need to know

Have you ever wondered what happens to your trash after you put it in the bin? Once you throw something away, its easy to forget about it, but in most cases, your trash is just starting a long journey. Depending on where you live, your trash might end up going to a landfill, a dump, an incinerator, or a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where recyclable materials get sorted, and potentially recycled. Your city or county, and many companies, are involved in hauling, sorting, recycling, landfilling, incinerating, and composting. It’s a complex system, and you might be surprised to learn that your trash might travel farther around the world than you!

Consider checking out the Lesson “Can it be recycled?” first to familiarize yourself with which kinds of waste are recyclable and which aren’t.

What to do

Conduct a local waste stream investigation to find out how waste is processed in your community using this worksheet. 

What to watch out for
  • There might be one waste hauler company for recyclables and a different company hauling items that are going to landfill.
  • Most of the answers to the questions below can be found by researching on the internet. Remember, use specific search keywords, try a variety of keywords, and evaluate your sources for their credibility.
  • Finding some answers might require asking an expert, company representative or someone who works for the city. A polite email or phone call can go a long way.
Track your contribution to solving plastic pollution

To submit your work and get recognized for your contribution to the movement, upload a copy of your completed worksheet, or put your answers in the form below. If we approve your submission, you’ll be awarded 3 Action Hours.

Where to next?

Explore the lessons and actions that build off this one to continue on your journey to address the plastic problem!

Can it be recycled?

Do this Lesson first to learn what kinds of waste are recyclable.

Design a Zero-Waste Composting Network

Learn about and design a better waste management system.

All of the Lessons and Actions with this symbol build off of The Story of Plastic film. Check them out!


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