Garbage: Investigate What Happens When You Throw it Out

Garbage: Investigate What Happens When You Throw It Out with 25 Projects (Build It Yourself series) by Donna Latham is packed full of hands-on activities that are sure to open your eyes to the immense issue of trash and the need for recycling. It has been nominated for a Cybils award in the MG/YA nonfiction category.

Some of the facts about garbage are staggering. According to Latham, Americans generate 260 million tons of garbage per year, which is enough to cover the state of Texas, twice. The average family produces 6,600 pounds of waste, sufficient to fill a three-bedroom house. (Too bad she didn’t include the figures she used to calculate those comparisons. It could have been a cool math activity).

Not everything that goes into the garbage can has to go there, however. Vegetable food waste can be composted in a compost heap or worm bin. A discarded household item may be reused for other purposes, such as converting an old door into a workbench, or may be sold or donated to someone else who may have a use for it. Recycling keeps even more trash out of the landfills. I love the idea of making junk mail into paper bead necklaces (pp. 82-83). What about the sailboat made out of reused plastic bottles?

Because this is STEM Friday, where’s the science? Many of the activities, such as “Break It Down” (pp. 40-41), “Simulate Water Pollution” (pp. 44-45), and “Compare Cleaners” (pp. 56-57) are already science experiments. Many of the others have potential to be science experiments or even full-blown science fair projects with a little thought. For example, “Grow an Avocado Plant” (pp. 72-23) can be made onto a science experiment if you grow several pits at a time under varied the growing conditions, perhaps testing whether certain water pollutants adversely effect growth.

Cybils Notes: I actually pulled this book out for review earlier and then returned it because I thought some of the activities were not completely safe as presented. For example, sorting trash to see what is in there is a fine idea (pp. 24-25), but there’s no suggestion to wear protective gloves (depending on the source of the trash) or even to wash your hands afterwards (any used cat litter in there?). At first glance Trash Running (page 3) sounds like a perfect way to combine exercise and environmental awareness, but after finding a bloody syringe in my curbside recycling bin once (someone tossed it there from the street), I think grabbing random trash while running could be extremely hazardous. What if there’s a syringe or piece of broken glass or poisonous spider in that paper wad you pick up? Do you want your children handling something like that, carrying it with them and potentially falling on it? Trash pick up should be done slowly, carefully and with attention fully on the task at hand.

But let’s not throw the book out altogether. To be fair, trash running is an activity that is being promoted by outside organizations, Latham is just passing the idea on. Many of the activities are safe and enlightening. The book would be a useful resource to accompany a lesson on the environment (say for Earth Day) or even a unit on earth science. With 25 activities to chose from, you are sure to find one that fits your needs.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: Nomad Press (August 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1936313472
ISBN-13: 978-1936313471

Stem Friday is at Growing With Science today. Click through for links to more excellent STEM books.

If you would like to participate in STEM Friday in the future, go to the new STEM Friday blog for more information.

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