What does our trash have to do with climate change?
This question is answered in a classroom workshop provided by the King County Solid Waste Division for high school students. For teachers who want a fun way to teach students the basics of climate change and how human actions contribute to it, consider the “Four Rs for Our Climate” workshop. Delivered by trained educators, the workshop shows students how rethinking, reducing, reusing, and recycling items that we use can lower greenhouse gas emissions.
In this interactive workshop, the presenter displays a diagram of the modern carbon cycle to show how human activity has altered it. In a group activity, students learn how greenhouse gas emissions are generated at each step of the life cycle of a product, in this case, a hamburger, which they trace from raw materials on farms and feedlots to an item on a fast-food restaurant menu. They also learn how generating waste as a consumer of this product contributes to their carbon footprint. The purpose of the activity is to get students thinking critically about the stuff they buy and throw away, and realize how their shopping and waste habits contribute to climate change.
At the end of the workshop, students are asked to “rethink” the fast-food hamburger and consider the carbon footprint of consumption choices. If everyone in King County or the U.S. or even the world would rethink these choices and strive to reduce waste, we could have a significant impact on lowering greenhouse gas emissions. If we could generate 70 percent less trash every year by simply recycling, composting, and reusing things instead of tossing them all in the trash, it would be the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking 285,000 cars off the road. The four Rs are really simple, but they can have a powerful effect when put into practice in our everyday lives.