Activity Introduction

Quick summary: In this lesson, students will build an understanding of the different types of recyclable waste and its impact upon our environment. Thy will use volume and mathematical skills to calculate school-wide waste projections. Students will approximate the amount of recyclable waste thrown away as rubbish within their school or year level. They will sort waste collected from the playground, lunch boxes or school bags, and fill waste-paper bins or baskets to approximate volume. The shape of the waste-paper bin and relevant volume formulas can be selected to suit different year levels.

This lesson has been developed in partnership with Visy. For over 60 years Visy has been striving for sustainability, reducing the amount of waste going to landfill by collecting recyclable materials and recycling them into new paper and packaging products. Click here to find out more about Visy and their innovative work in recovering and transforming recyclable materials into new products to preserve our earth’s precious resources.


Learning intentions:

  • Students will understand the different types of recyclable waste and its impact upon our environment.
  • Students will be able to use volume and mathematical skills to calculate school-wide waste projections.

21st century skills:

Australian Curriculum Mapping

Content descriptions:

Year 7 Maths: Use rectangular waste paper bins (ignoring slopes, assuming bin is a prism) –

  • Calculate volumes of rectangular prisms (ACMMG160).

Year 8 Maths: Use rectangular waste paper bins and consider slopes (assuming bins are trapezoids) –

  • Develop formulas for volumes of rectangular and triangular prisms and prisms in general (ACMMG198).
  • Use formulas to solve problems involving volume (ACMMG198).

Year 9 Maths: Use cylindrical bins (ignoring slope, assuming bin is a prism) –

  • Calculate the surface area and volume of cylinders and solve related problems (ACMMG217).

Year 10 Maths: Use cylindrical bins and consider slope or obscurely shaped bin –

  • Solve problems involving surface area and volume for a range of prisms, cylinders and composite solids (ACMMG242).

Syllabus outcomes: MA3-11MG, MA3‑1WM, MA3‑2WM, MA3‑3WM.

General capabilities: Numeracy, Critical and creative thinking, Ethical understanding.

Cross-curriculum priority: Sustainability OI.8.

Relevant parts of Year 7 Mathematics achievement standards: Students use formulas for the area and perimeter of rectangles and calculate volumes of rectangular prisms.

Relevant parts of Year 8 Mathematics achievement standards: Students solve problems relating to the volume of prisms.

Relevant parts of Year 9 Mathematics achievement standards: Students calculate areas of shapes and the volume and surface area of right prisms and cylinders.

Relevant parts of Year 10 Mathematics achievement standards: Students solve surface area and volume problems relating to composite solids.

Topic: Waste, Sustainability.

Unit of work: Bright Sparks – Secondary Mathematics.

Time required: 90 mins.

Level of teacher scaffolding: Medium – Teacher may need to assist students with making assumptions regarding the dimensions of the waste paper basket, particularly when slope is considered.

Resources required:

  • Student Worksheets (one per student).
  • Recycling Quiz.
  • Recycling Reference.
  • Device capable of presenting a video to the class and projecting images/charts.
  • Waste-paper bin/s of appropriate shape (e.g. rectangular for Years 7 and 8, cylindrical for Years 9 and 10).
  • Latex-free gloves for students to collect and sort rubbish.
  • Litter sticks or kitchen tongs (at least one between two).
  • Plastic sheet, newspapers or a large rubbish bag to place on the ground.
  • Rulers to measure the dimensions of the waste-paper bin.
  • Calculators.

Keywords: Volume, recycling, waste projections.

The information and statistics included in this document are approximate and have been simplified for educational/illustrative purposes. They should not be relied upon for any other purpose.

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


Teacher Worksheet

Teacher Preparation

Learning intentions:

  • Students will understand the different types of recyclable waste and its impact upon our environment.
  • Students will be able to use volume and mathematical skills to calculate school-wide waste projections.

Success criteria:

  • Students can sort collected waste into the different recyclable groups.
  • Students can use real dimensions of a waste-paper bin to apply volume formulas.
  • Students can use assumptions and calculations to make projections about recyclable material entering landfill.

Teacher content information: Almost everything we do in our daily lives creates waste. We can describe waste as something we no longer want or need. The food and drinks we consume, the clothes and cosmetics we wear, the transport we take, the stuff we buy, the energy we use in our homes and workplaces – all these things have waste as a part of their production.

Many of the things we use come to us wrapped in some kind of packaging. Think of th

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Student Worksheet

Thought starter: How much recyclable waste do I throw out?

Part A: What is recyclable?

Your teacher will provide you with a quiz. Once you have completed the quiz activity, work independently to answer the following questions:

1. What was most surprising or interesting about the information in this quiz? 

2. What is one new thing that you learnt from this quiz?

3. What would you like to know more about? How do you think you might be able to find out about this? 

Part B: Sorting rubbish

1. Sort the sample of rubbish into groups: paper and cardboard, plastic, aluminium, steel and glass. Any item that is not recyclable can be thrown away.

2. Approximate the volume of each type of recyclable by filling a waste-paper bin. You may need to fill the bin more than once and use fractions to estimate when the bin is partially filled.

Table 1. Sorting rubbish

Recyclable Material Paper and Cardboard Plastic Aluminium Steel Glass
Number of times the bin is filled
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