Project image card - click to select this 3 hour project. Image shows two trash cans side by side, one black and one blue.
3 Hours

Photo credit: Sigmund on Unsplash

Your mission

Find out how plastic waste is managed in your community.

Time Commitment: 3 Hours

Range of Impact: Home, Community

This Action is part of the Story of Plastic Classroom Experience Guide.

Why this Action is impactful

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 to know before getting started

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!

What to do

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

Tips and suggestions

  • 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 submit your work and get recognized for your contribution to your community, complete the form below. If we approve your submission, you’ll be awarded 3 Hours.

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    • Recycling bins are often blue or purple, landfill bins are usually black or blue. Compost usually green or brown. Look for labels and signs too.
    • This information is usually somewhere on your city’s or region’s website. Recycled materials usually go to a MRF. See if you can find out which MRF your waste gets sent to.
    • Whether you have a recycling bin often depends on if you live in a house or an apartment. Often, apartment buildings don’t have recycling.
    • See the What is and isn’t recycling Waymark for more info on the different kinds of incineration.
    • Trash haulers are the companies that bring the waste from our homes to the processing location. Next time your trash or recycling gets picked up, look for the company name on the truck. Or research online.
    • Some cities provide a separate bin to homes to dispose of garden cuttings and food waste.
    • Research which MRFs operate near you and contact them to find out where they sell their sorted plastic to.
    • We'll use this information to keep improving the program. Thank you!

    Learn more

    Check out the educational videos below to learn more about this topic.

    Do another Action

    Check out our other Actions that build off of this one!

    Closeup of leafy greens in a garden bed

    Design a Composting Network

    Design a plan for your communities businesses to work together to compost more.