Take a stroll through your neighborhood or local park, and there’s a good chance you’ll see at least one piece of litter. It’s not surprising when you consider the fact that 3 out of 4 people admitted to littering in the past five years.
But littering has harmful effects on the environment. It can even carry germs, bacteria and viruses. In fact, litter on the ground degrades natural areas and kills plants and animals.
It can also spoil water quality as harmful toxins from litter seep into the soil and pollute the water humans, animals and plants need to survive. Litter can also make its way into our oceans, which kills roughly 100,000 turtles and marine mammals every year around the world.
Fortunately, littering can be controlled. It starts with educating people about negative effects it has on the environment. In this science and math activity, students collect data on the prevalence of litter in designated locations, create anti-littering posters and then conduct research to determine the environmental impact of litter.
To begin the activity, ask students to define the term litter. Help them understand that litter is any item that has been improperly discarded. For example, a scrap of paper is not litter if it is thrown in a trash basket or recycling container. However, if it is dropped on the floor or the street, it becomes litter.
Discuss the types of items they may find during the activity. The most common items found while cleaning litter include fast food wrappers, aluminum cans and paper. And discarded cigarettes, which take 10 years to decompose, make up over half of all littered items.
- For one week, have students keep records of all the litter they notice in places like the school grounds, parks, the playground, the neighborhood, city streets and their own yards. Make a group “litter chart” with columns for locations such as those mentioned above.
- Each day, put tally marks under the headings where students have spotted litter.
- Distribute the art materials and have students work in small groups to create anti-litter posters.
- Once finished, have each small group explain their finished poster to the larger group. Then display them around the room.
- When each group has presented, have students research the answers to these questions:
- Each person in the United States uses about 580 pounds of paper a year. In one year, what is the total amount of paper used in the United States?
- Each year 25 billion Styrofoam cups are thrown away. If all of these cups were placed end to end in a line, how many times would the line circle the earth?
Wrap up the activity with a few discussion questions. What location collected the most, or least, litter? What are some ideas for reducing the litter in these areas? What kinds of litter did they observe? Why do people litter? Most times, students are unaware how their actions impact other people and things. But this activity is a great way to help them understand the harmful effects littering has on the environment.
Check out our Celebrating Earth Day Pinterest board for more Earth Day activities, resources and crafts.
This activity is adapted from After-School Explorations: Fun, Ready-to-Use Activities for Kids Ages 5-12