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MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative


9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College


Science, Social Studies, Earth and Space Sciences, Economics, Engineering

Resource Types

  • Lesson Plans
  • Worksheets
  • Podcasts, 14 minutes, 7 seconds
  • Charts, Graphs, and Tables
  • Activity - Classroom

Regional Focus




Recycling and Climate Change Educator Guide

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  • This activity includes a podcast, educator guide, and student activities related to a nuanced investigation of recycling as a solution to climate change.
  • Students will learn about the energy savings related to recycling items rather than producing new items from raw materials, the drawbacks of recycling plastic, the ranking system for zero waste, and the efficacy of various solutions.
  • The educator guide includes student activities on problems and solutions related to recycling, as well as an investigation of recycling practices in their community.
Teaching Tips


  • The student activities are well-oriented toward group work and small discussions as students ponder solutions to recycling barriers.
  • The educator guide includes background resources to help the teacher learn more about climate solutions before teaching the class, as well as helpful tips on timing and facilitation.
  • Educators can pick and choose which activities would fit their learning goals the best, since all of the activities can be done independently, or as part of a sequence.
  • The activities and podcast cite scientific researchers and utilize data from reputable resources.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students should be familiar with the concept that fossil fuels are used for materials production and these lead to greenhouse gases which cause climate change.


  • It is recommended for the teacher to open the educator guide and student worksheets simultaneously, to assist in perusing the lesson suggestions associated with each activity and making decisions about facilitation.
  • As students complete the first activity with the problems and solutions T-table, consider having them write down the answers while listening to the podcast and then choose one item about which to draw a comic representation.
  • It may be helpful to draw or project a large image of the Zero Waste Hierarchy inverted pyramid at the front of the class to assist students since it is referenced multiple times in different activities.
  • Before students complete the activity on page 9 in which they interview an organization about their recycling, it may be helpful for the teacher to call around to a few places that would be willing to answer calls or emails related to this topic so that students do not run into a bunch of dead ends.
Scientist Notes
This resource provides an ~14 minute podcast along with a lesson plan discussing the Three R's of environmental solutions. There is a design challenge, research opportunity and investigation opportunities for students built into this lesson plan. The full lesson plan along with seperated teacher and student pages, make this a well rounded resource for discussion about recycling, reusing, and reducing and how it helps climate change. This resource would be a great addition to any classroom discuss about climate change and actions students can take to help fight global warming.
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • HS-ESS3-2 Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.
      • HS-ESS3-4 Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.
    • ETS1: Engineering Design
      • HS-ETS1-2 Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
    • LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
      • HS-LS2-7 Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.
  • Common Core English Language Arts Standards (CCSS.ELA)
    • Speaking & Listening (K-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
    • Writing (K-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    • Writing: History, Science & Technical Subjects (6-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
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