Activity Introduction

Quick summary: In this simple experiment the class will have the chance to study the different ways that waste materials break down. The class will bury a variety of ‘waste’ materials and dig them up at regular intervals to see how they are breaking down. This activity can be extended over several weeks or months, with the class revisiting the waste materials each week and recording their findings.


Following this lesson plan is an ideal way for your school to take part in Schools Clean Up Day or a Clean Up on any day of the year. You’ll be joining thousands of amazing teachers in making a difference and creating positive environmental change.


Learning intentions:

  • Students determine how different types of waste take different amounts of time to break down
  • Students take responsibility for their own waste
  • Students learn scientific observation skills.

21st century skills:

CommunicatingCritical Thinking

Australian Curriculum Mapping

Content descriptions:

Foundation Science

  • Objects are made of materials that have observable properties (ACSSU003)
  • Daily and seasonal changes in our environment, including the weather, affect everyday life (ACSSU004)
  • Respond to questions about familiar objects and events (ACSIS014)
  • Explore and make observations by using the senses (ACSIS011)
  • Engage in discussions about observations and use methods such as drawing to represent ideas (ACSIS233)
  • Share observations and ideas (ACSIS012)

Syllabus outcomes: STe-4WS, STe-9ME, STe-7NE

General capabilities: Critical and creative thinking.

Cross-curriculum priority: Sustainability OI.3, OI.8.

Topic: Clean Up, Waste.

Time required: 60 mins to setup then ongoing to collect results

Resources needed:

  • Burial site for waste
  • Digging tools
  • Different types of waste (glad-wrap, plastic bags, milk bottles and water bottles)
  • Gloves for teacher and students to avoid contact with waste
  • Printed Student Worksheet for recording waste
  • Waste breakdown flashcards.

Keywords: Waste, burial, plastic, food, resources, energy, waste.

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...

  • ... determine how different types of waste take different amounts of time to break down
  • ... take responsibility for their own waste
  • ... learn scientific observation skills.

Success criteria: Students can...

  • ... know some of the steps to conduct an experiment
  • ... know how to use tables to record data
  • ... know how to draw conclusions based on data.

Teacher content information: Biodegradation times depend on the environmental conditions. Materials will break down faster when exposed to the elements (sunlight, heat, rain, etc.) and decomposers (fungi, bacteria, insects and other invertebrates). Landfills are not ideal environments for decomposition, so trash in landfills takes much longer to break down.

Print a copy of each Waste breakdown flashcards, sticking the two sides of the card together so that the breakdown rate corresponds to the correct waste type. The breakdown rates for the flashcards are as fo

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Student Worksheet

Thought Starter: What is waste?

Part 1: What do you think will happen to the waste you buried?

Write down which ones you think will break down quickly, and which ones will break down slowly.






















Part 2: What happened to the waste you buried?

Write down which ones broke down quickly, and which ones broke down more slowly.




















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