Activity Introduction

Quick summary: Students use mathematics to investigate and solve problems with litter around outdoor bins (may include rubbish, recycling and composting). They focus on answering questions about the causes of litter and if littering is related to distance from a bin. They use their data to work out the density and distribution of litter in relation to its proximity of bins. From their investigation, they suggest the most likely causes of littering and communicate their findings and solutions to the school community.

NRW Logo 2012-10-00 LgeThis lesson has been developed as part of the Schools Recycle Right Challenge for Planet Ark’s National Recycling Week. Register your lesson or other activities so they can be counted towards the national achievement and to receive other free support materials.


Learning goals for this activity: Students use area formulas for rectangles and triangles to solve problems involving areas of surfaces.

Australian Curriculum content descriptions:

Year 7 Mathematics:

  • Establish the formulas for areas of rectangles, triangles and parallelograms and use these in problem solving (ACMMG159)
  • Identify and investigate issues involving numerical data collected from primary and secondary sources (ACMSP169)

Year level: 7

Time needed: 90 min

Level of teacher scaffolding: Medium – demonstrate to students how to setup a five by five metre grid around waste bins so they can collect and record data about litter.

Resources needed: Measuring tapes at least 20 metres long or trundle wheels, maps of the school with an approximate scale.  

Digital technology opportunities: Google maps with satellite images of the school

There’s an app for that: Google Maps - get comprehensive, accurate and easy-to-use maps.

Assumed prior learning: Aspects of the waste stream including rubbish, recycling and composting. Participation in the school’s litter reduction programs.

Key words: waste, rubbish, litter, recycle, correlation

Cool Australia’s curriculum team continually reviews and refines our resources to be in line with changes to the Australian Curriculum.

These Planet Ark resources were developed by Cool Australia with funding from the Alcoa Foundation.


Teacher Worksheet

Teacher preparation

Overarching learning goals: Students use measurement to solve problems concerning littering issues. Having analysed their data, students communicate their findings and possible solutions to the school community.

Teacher content information:

Litter and littering is an ongoing and daily issue in most schools. Littering behaviour is extremely complex. Studies of littering in public areas have shown that secondary school aged students on their own actually litter less than most other age groups. Teenagers also are more likely to tell the truth about their littering behaviour compared with adults.   

In our experience, when students are asked why they litter they repeat the reasons told to them by adults,  including 'being lazy'. Some of the cause may go a lot deeper e.g., when students are in a social group or undertaking a leisure activity, they are unwilling to break from the group or activity to find a bin.

Activities such as this one are more likely to get thos

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Student Worksheet

Thought starters: What would our neighbourhood look and smell like if our rubbish was not collected for 12 months?

Step 1: What is the problem to be solved?

Why do we want to control litter?


 Why is litter a problem at our school?


Step 2: Investigating litter in our school

Mapping our school’s waste bins

  • In your groups use the map provided by your teacher.
  • Go to the area your teacher has allocated to your group.
  • As accurately as possible on the map, mark all the waste bins. Identify at the location if there are rubbish, recycling and composting (may be a composting bucket) bins.
  • Go back to class and combine your information with that of the rest of the class. 

Your group will probably only have time to gather data about litter for one group of bins.

Once your group has been allocated a set of bins, you will need to make a grid on the map. The grid on the map does not need to be very accurate. It is required to record your data when you count your litter.


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