Lesson Topic/Title: Waste Disposal
Teachers Involved: Classroom teacher
Subject Area(s): Social Studies, Science
Community Partner(s): The Landfill
Standards: GLCEs
S.IP.04.11: Make purposeful observation of the natural world using the appropriate
S.IP.04.12: Generate questions based on observations.
S.IP.04.13: Plan and conduct simple and fair investigations.
S.IA.04.13: Communicate and present findings of observations and investigations.
S.RS.04.11: Demonstrate scientific concepts through various illustrations, performances,
models, exhibits, and activities.
S.RS.04.18: Describe the effect humans and other organisms have on the balance of the
natural world.
4 – P4.2.2: Participate in projects to help or inform others.
Objectives/Big Ideas
Students/community members will…
o Understand the steps needed to perform an experiment.
o Understand the effects that a landfill has on the environment.
o Understand the safety measures associated with a landfill.
Be Able to Do:
What skills and habits of mind will this lesson help develop?
o Students will be able to generate questions and answers from an investigation.
o Students will be able to plan and conduct an experiment.
o Students will be able to follow directions and create 3 different types of landfills.
o Students will be able to figure out measures that need to be taken to protect the
environment from human waste.
o Students will be able to discover how landfills work and how they affect the
Relevance or Connection to Essential Question
Essential Question: What is garbage?
This lesson gives students a chance to explore what they consider garbage and what happens to it
once it is thrown away. It allows students to watch how 3 different types of landfills build up
over time and what happens to that build up.
Materials Needed:
2 cardboard shoeboxes
1 gallon plastic milk jug
4 garbage bags
10 lbs soil
Watering can with water
1. Pose these questions to peak students’ interest and to get them engaged:
a. What is a landfill?
b. Why do we have landfills?
c. Have we always had landfills?
d. Why should we care about the use of landfills?
Refer to the information sheet at the end of this document to in order to instruct students
on different types of landfills.
2. Show students pictures of landfills that are in the United States. (These pictures are
included at the end of the document)
3. Explain that the class will construct mini-landfills and a mini-open dump in order to
observe what happens in each and why this is important for our community.
4. With all materials before the class, call individuals to come forward and separate the
waste items into “organic” and “inorganic” piles. Others make lists of items in the two
piles. (Include plastic items, paper scraps, metal items, fabric, food scraps such as fruit
peels, newspaper, etc.)
5. Then call on individuals to come up and do the following steps for each type of landfill:
Open Dump:
 In a large cardboard shoebox, place 3 inches of soil to cover the bottom of the
box. Pack it down. Heap in organic and inorganic wastes. Sprinkle with water;
label it “open dump.” Place outside on top of a garbage bag. Every other day
sprinkle with ½ cup of water. Leave it open to the sun and air. Observe over time.
Traditional Landfill:
 In a large cardboard shoebox, place 3 inches of soil all over the bottom of the box.
Pack it down. Heap in wastes. Add another layer of soil, another layer of garbage,
then top with a layer of soil 3-4 inches deep. Label the box “early landfill.” Place
it in a plastic garbage bag, sprinkle with water and seal with a twist tie. Take it
outside where it will remain undisturbed. Every other day open the landfill to
sprinkle with ½ cup of water. Observe over time.
Sanitary Landfill:
 Take a gallon-size plastic milk jug and cut out near the top around 3 sides to
create a large opening. (The heavy plastic represents the landfill’s liner.) Place a
heavy garbage bag inside covering the bottom. (This represents another layer of
protective layer.) Add 2 inches of soil and pack it down. Heap in organic and
inorganic wastes; add another layer of packed soil, another layer of waste, then
top with a layer of soil. Seal the cut and top of the jug with heavy duty tape.
Because the top is sealed, this will represent a closed landfill, not an operating
one. Label it “sanitary landfill” and place it in a plastic garbage bag and twist tie it
closed. Take it outside. Open it only to observe. Do not water it.
Give a Landfill Questionnaire to each student to complete. Group students to review
answers and discuss their responses.
Observe the 3 landfills over time, 20 days, and have students record their observations in
an observation journal. Ask open-ended questions such as “What would happen if
dangerous chemicals were thrown into an open dump or a landfill?” “What effect would a
landfill have on its environment?” for them to answer in their journal.
At the end, after all observations are complete, ask the students to look back at questions
from the Landfill Questionnaire once again to see if their responses have changed.
Discuss as a class what happened in their landfills and if or how that differs in a real
landfill. Here is what happens in each type of landfill:
a. Open Dump: Very few items, if any, decompose, leaving a pile of trash in the
dump forever.
b. Traditional Landfill: Most items decompose over the course of several years
(millions in some cases). Once the landfill is capped, parks, golf courses, and ski
slopes can be built on top of them.
c. Sanitary Landfill: Most items decompose over the course of several years
(millions in some cases). These spots may also be turned into public recreation
sites, as a traditional landfill is.
While discussing what happens in each landfill, be sure to discuss what
decomposition is. Decomposition is the breaking down of organic materials into
simpler structures. Emphasize that inorganic materials cannot decompose and ask the
students what inorganic items we put into our three different landfills.
10. Show students the list of items and how long it takes for each item to decompose. This
list is at the end of the document, on the teacher information sheet. Require students to
prepare questions for the last part of the lesson after having done this research.
11. At a later date arrange for the students to visit a nearby solid waste disposal site. Discuss
the advantages of the waste disposal method used there. Are there better methods
available? What about recycling?
Works Cited:
How will I know what students have learned?
The students will be completing a Landfill Questionnaire and an observation journal which will
show the students’ understanding of the lesson and will show if they have retained the correct
Landfill Questionnaire
1. What 6 words do you associate with a landfill?
2. Does your city or country have a landfill? If yes, where? If no, where is your city or
county’s solid waste disposed?
3. Who selects landfills sites? _________________________________________________
4. What would you consider to be an ideal site for your garbage?
5. If it were determined that our town had an environmentally safe site for a landfill, would
you support locating it at the site? Yes_________ No________
Why? __________________________________________________________________
6. Do you think landfills have a negative impact on:
(1 – strongly agree; 2 – agree; 3 – disagree; 4 – strongly disagree)
Air Quality
Town’s Image ____
Property Values ____
Neighborhood ____
Water Quality
Aesthetics ____
Teacher Information Sheet
Open Dump: An open dump is an abandoned pile of trash that can include household trash, yard
waste, used tires, appliances, lumber, shingles, etc. It can also be a hole that was dug into the
ground to put trash in. They are usually found in empty lots, backyards, or sometimes abandoned
buildings. Very few things decompose in an open dump.
Traditional Landfill: A traditional landfill is similar to an airtight storage container. It is carefully
designed and built in or on top of the ground. Trash is, to an extent, isolated from the
environment with a bottom liner and is usually covered daily by soil. Because the trash is kept
from the air, items do not decompose quickly, even those items that are biodegradable. Even
though these landfills become full and are then closed, they become useful. Once landfills are
closed, many of them are turned into parks, golf courses, or ski slopes.
Sanitary Landfill: A sanitary landfill is a controlled method of disposing of waste. It is deposited
in layers and then is compacted by heavy duty machinery. This is done in layers to create a
refuse cell. Each day the layers are covered with a layer of soil. When building a sanitary
landfill, a layer of clay is placed at the bottom to prevent polluting groundwater. Once full, it is
then covered with another layer of clay and topped off with a layer of topsoil. Vegetation is
usually planted in the topsoil.
o Bottom Liner: this liner separates buried waste from underlying natural soils and
groundwater. It is constructed of durable, puncture resistant synthetic plastic or
they can also be made with clay.
o Cells: area in the landfill that is approved for waste disposal. Waste is placed in a
cell in compacted layers and one cell is capped off each day.
o Leachate Collection System: the bottom surface is sloped to a low point. This low
point, called a sump, traps liquid that is inside the landfill. This liquid is called
leachate. Having this system allows the employees of the landfill to remove the
leachate to prevent groundwater contamination. Once the leachate is removed
from the sump, it is typically pumped or gravity-flowed to a holding tank or pond,
where it is either treated on site or hauled off to a public or private wastewater
treatment facility.
o Storm Water Drainage: system designed to control runoff water during rain and
o Methane Collection System: a series of pipes embedded within the landfill that
collects methane gas to prevent fire or explosion.
o Cover/Cap: refuse cells are to be covered daily by a layer of compacted soil or an
alternative daily cover.
o Groundwater Monitoring Stations: stations set up for landfill workers to test the
groundwater around the landfill. They are looking for leachate chemicals.
How long does it take for it to decompose?
Banana – 3 to 4 weeks
Paper Bag – 1 month
Cotton Rag – 5 months
Wood Stock – 1 year
Cigarette Butt – 2 to 5 years
Leather Boot – 40 to 50 years
Rubber Sole (of the boot) – 50 to 80 years
Tin Can (soup or vegetable can) – 80 to 100 years
Aluminum Can (soda pop can) – 200 to 500 years
Plastic 6-pack Rings – 450 years
Plastic Jug – 1 million years
Styrofoam Cup – unknown? forever?
Glass Bottle – unknown? Forever?
Landfill Pictures

Landfill Questionnaire - What Is Garbage?