Activity Introduction

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

This activity has been developed in partnership with Visy. For over 70 years Visy has been committed to finding sustainable solutions for Australia’s recyclables and helping to reduce local landfills. Visy collects, receives and sorts paper, cardboard, glass, plastics, steel and aluminium from households, businesses and schools with the purpose of reusing these products in the re-manufacture of new packaging products.

Learning intentions:

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

21st century skills:

Critical ThinkingGlobal CitizenshipSocial SkillsProblem Solving

Australian Curriculum Mapping

Content descriptions:

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

  • Calculate volumes of rectangular prisms (ACMMG160).

Year 8 Maths: Use rectangular 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: Recycling, Sustainability.

Unit of work: Visy Education – 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 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
  • 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 paper bin
  • Calculators.

Keywords: Volume, recycling, recyclables 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 materials and its impact upon our environment
  • ... be able to use volume and mathematical skills to calculate school-wide waste projections.

Success criteria: Students can...

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

Teacher content information: What do you do with the things you no longer want or need, such as the packaging from the food you buy or bottles you drink from? Many of us have grown up thinking of this as 'waste', as something we need to just get rid of. But what if we think of these materials as a resource for creating new and useful products? What if we can re-imagine how we think about and use these materials?

Thinking of waste items as the resources re

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Student Worksheet

Thought starter: How many recyclable materials 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 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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