Buried Treasure: Garbage

An indoor-outdoor activity.


  • To identify organic and nonorganic materials
  • To explore the impact of our garbage, biodegradable vs. nonbiodegradable
  • Piece of plastic
  • Piece of paper
  • Fruit peel
  • Chart paper and marker

Indoor Procedure
Review definition of decomposition. Use it as decomposable. List organic, nonorganic, biodegradable, non biodegradable on chalk board Older students begin with a discussion of organic - materials produced naturally by plants and animals as part of their natural life cycles. organic materials are decomposable or biodegradable by soil life forms. Examples: lettuce, leather, some soaps, fur, hair, wood, etc..

Continue and describe nonorganic substances - chemically based and manufactured by mankind (anything artificial or synthetic) or relatively inert materials occurring in nature. Non organic materials are not decomposable by soil life forms. They are nonbiodegradable. Examples: cleaning chemicals, pesticides, plastics (including clothes), paint, cement, tar, rock.

Second graders inspect the classroom and list ten organic things and ten nonorganic things they see. As the class compare lists, make a three column chart. Label columns Organic, Nonorganic, and How Long to Decompose. As class contributes items for each column, beside each organic item predict how long (weeks, months, years, centuries) it might take to decompose. Beside each nonorganic item elicit the response NEVER.

Outdoor Procedure
Bury the biodegradable and nonbiodegradable objects. The class chooses a spot in the schoolyard and buries the plastic, paper, and fruit peel. In one month, dig up the objects and observe them. Have the objects changed? Decomposed?

Discussion Questions
  1. How do observations from this activity relate to human garbage and the impact of trash on Earth?
  2. What will Earth look like 100 years from now if we keep manufacturing and discarding nonorganic, nonbiodegradable things?
  3. What kind of ingredients should we look for on manufacturers' labels?
Record answers in Computer Journals.