Lesson image card - close up of hand holding litter


Lesson image card - close up of hand holding litter
Photo Credit: Los Muertos Crew on Pexels

Collect and sort trash found at school to help develop a solution for decreasing trash on campus.


Grades 4 and up

Time Needed 1 – 2 hours


  • Copies of school map or blank paper for students to draw out school map or collection site
  • Reusable or paper bags for collecting trash
  • One glove for each student for trash collection
  • Trash grabbers (if school has this tool on campus to use)

Editable Handouts

Campus Cleanup – Student Worksheet

This lesson was created by middle school science educator Ashley Contreras and is part of the NGSS MS-ESS 3-3 Human Impact – “Plastic Ocean” Standards Alignment Guide.


Purpose and Context

Plastic pollution is a global problem that can impact even the World’s most remote places. From the heights of Mount Everest to the depths of the Mariana Trench, plastic can be found. The global issue of plastic pollution can be overwhelming and feel like it is too big of a problem to solve. Studying plastic pollution at a local level is not only easier but results in locally relevant solutions. A school campus is a great place for students to make observations about their impact on the global litter problem and participate in designing ways to improve the management of waste, identify options for reducing waste.


Part 1. Campus Clean Up

Depending on the size of the school, walk around all of campus or a selected area of campus.

Students will use the Campus Cleanup – Student Worksheet to record the conditions of the day and complete the prediction questions. Students will collect trash as a whole class or in groups. Using the school map, students will record the locations of where they collected the trash. The trash collection will take approximately 30 minutes. After the trash collection is complete, students can begin sorting and collecting data. This activity can be divided into two days so plan on how to properly store the collected trash if your class plans on sorting and counting the following day.


Part 2. Sorting and Analysis

As a whole class or in groups, students sort the trash into categories that they decide on. Categories could be based on material, container type, contents type, etc. Once categories have been determined, and the trash has been sorted, count the number of pieces of trash in each category. Students will record their data on the student worksheet. Discuss data as a class. After discussing the data, students will complete the reflection questions.

Tips and Suggestions

Whole class or group: Students can collect trash as a whole class that walks around campus together or students can work in groups to collect trash. Each group can be assigned a specific section of school or can select their own location. The groups can sort, categorize, and count trash individually or complete as a whole class.

This activity can be used in different ways depending on the goals of the class. This activity can serve as a campus clean up and brief discussion after collection that can be completed in one day. The full activity is two 60 minute periods with day 1 being the trash collection and day 2 being the analysis and discussion. Trash collected on day 1 would need to be stored in order to sort and analyze. If this activity is used for multiple classes in one day, the trash collection locations on campus can be divided based on how many class periods will be participating in the activity. The trash collection can also be completed on different days so that each class period has trash to collect.

Associated Standards

Next Generation Science Standards

MS-ESS 3-3 Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

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