Toward a Plastic Responsible Future Unit Driving Question: What can we do to reduce the effects of plastic pollution?

Solutions to Plastic Waste Lesson Driving Question: How do we measure and remove plastic from the waste stream?

1. Introduce students to the 3 R’s Framework.
  • Tell students that this lesson is going to be focused on the three R’s.
  • Activate students’ prior knowledge by asking them if they know what the three R’s are. If they do, ask them to briefly explain each (refuse/reduce, reuse, recycle). 
  • Play the music video for the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Earth Day Song (6:50). Have fun with this! Encourage students to get up and dance to the song.
2. Facilitate students’ exploration of resources to become experts on the three R’s.

Have experts share their learning on the three R’s in expert groups.

  • Arrange students in groups of two or three who resarched the same R.
  • Have student expert groups discuss to understand the following:
      • What are the big ideas/themes from your sources?
      • What were some of the ways that the R in your sources was implemented?
      • What is your definition of this R?
      • What are some challenges to doing this effectively?
      • How can it be implemented better at school?
  • Have students return to their policy proposal groups to share their expert group discussions with their team.
  • Have students discuss and decide which of the 3 R’s would be most effective to implement in reducing plastic waste at the school.

4. Have students read to learn about the complexities of solutions.

  • Explain to students that solutions are rarely as straightforward as they may initially seem.
  • Assign one of the following articles to the policy proposal groups so that one-third of the class is reading each. Have all students in each group read the same article.
  • Have each student in the group read and take two-column notes on the articles from one of the following perspectives:
      • The consumer. How might this article inform your daily practice?
      • The policymaker. How can this information inform rules, laws, or policies?
      • The media. What message is the writer trying to send with this article?
  • Have students share in their groups what they learned from the article based on their role perspective.
  • Lead a discussion during which students share some of the ways that solutions can be complicated based on the content of their articles. Ask: What are some things that you will need to consider when making recommendations for changes in your proposal?
5. Support students as they develop their solution proposals.
  • Project the Plastic Policy Project Description and orient students to where they are in the project development process. 
  • Explain that they have completed a draft of the statement of the problem. Now they will be working on Step 2, proposing a solution. Students should use the data from their research (represented on infographics from the Representing Data activity) and the sources in this activity that illustrate the three R’s.
  • For students to use their data to drive the solutions, they will be keeping their proposals based in the school community. Proposed policies may involve anything from changing school policies to making change at the state level. However, the possible impacts described and data need to reflect what can happen at the school.  
  • As students work, check in with them and make sure that they are using the Plastic Policy Project Description and Plastic Policy Proposal Brochure: Checklist and Rubric to guide their writing.
  • Collect students’ solution proposals.

Informal Assessment

Students determine and write an explanation of a data-driven solution based on the 3 R’s Framework to propose in their policy proposal brochures.  

Extending the Learning

If students have data to support it, they can propose solutions that include the broader community.

Subjects & Disciplines

  • Social Studies

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Create a working definition for each of the R’s in the 3 R’s Framework and how each can be used in the community.
  • Develop a data-driven proposed solution to reduce plastic waste in their school community.

Teaching Approach

  • Project-based learning

Teaching Methods

  • Multimedia instruction
  • Reading
  • Research

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.A:  Introduce claim(s) about a topic or issue, acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1.B:  Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources. 

The College, Career & Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards

  • D2.Civ.7.6-8:  Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school and community settings.
  • D4.3.6-8.:  Construct arguments using claims and evidence from multiple sources, while acknowledging the strengths and limitations of the arguments.

What You’ll Need

Materials You Provide

  • Handout: The Three R's Expert Research

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, 1 computer per learner, 1 computer per pair, Monitor/screen, Projector, Speakers

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • Large-group instruction
  • Small-group learning
  • Small-group work

Background Information

Plastic does not degrade in our lifetime. Before we get into the R’s of plastic waste reduction, let’s discuss two alternate forms of plastic–biodegradable and bioplastic. Biodegradable plastics can be decomposed by living organisms, typically bacteria; however, it is not the same as compostable; it purely means “to break down.” To make plastics easier to break down, chemicals are added—biodegradable plastics have more chemicals than regular plastics. Bioplastics are derived from renewable biomass rather than fossil fuels. While this material has the word bio in it, not all bioplastics are biodegradable, nor do they degrade any more readily than normal plastic. To eliminate plastic from our waste stream, we must follow these R’s:

  • Refuse and Reduce: The idea of doing more with less. When considering if you need something, think about what life would look like without it. Cut your plastic consumption off at the source by changing your consumer behavior.
  • Reuse: Opt for long-lasting items rather than single-use plastic. By reusing objects, you reduce the amount of fossil fuels needed to create the object in addition to adding to the circular economy.
  • Recycle: If you must use plastic, make sure that you are able to recycle it in a proper bin. Recycle when you are unable to refuse, reduce, or reuse plastic. Plastic bottles can be turned into other plastic bottles and reduce the amount of fossil fuels extracted and used.



set of actions or rules.


to clean or process in order to make suitable for reuse.


to lower or lessen.


to give up, renounce, be unwilling to accept.


to use again.

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