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Pollution Prevention

Duration 2 class periods
Grade Level 7-12
Key Terms/

Hazardous waste
Pollution prevention
Solid waste

Physical Science
Social Studies


Paper BagThis activity helps students understand what can be done to reduce the amount of solid and hazardous wastes that must be disposed of. Students review the characteristics of hazardous waste and develop an estimate of the amount of household hazardous waste in their community.


Pollution prevention is any effort to reduce or eliminate pollution and wastes. Efforts can include reducing the release of pollutants to the air, reducing runoff into streams, preventing releases of hazardous chemicals, and decreasing the volume of solid and hazardous wastes we produce. This activity focuses on preventing pollution by reducing solid and hazardous wastes.

Hazardous waste is defined as any material that presents a threat or unreasonable risk of injury to people or the environment when it is produced, transported, used, or disposed of. Hazardous waste is categorized into four groups based on its characteristics:


By far the most hazardous waste is produced by industries and manufacturing. We also produce some hazardous waste in our homes when we do not properly dispose of items like worn-out batteries, paint products, cleaning agents, used motor oil, pesticides, and fertilizers.

NOTE: Even though industrial processes generate most hazardous waste, this activity focuses on hazardous materials found in homes because students can collect information on these materials more readily. Ideas for activities that focus on pollution prevention efforts in industry are included in the Extensions listed at the end of this lesson.

Warm-Up 1: Defining Hazardous Waste is good preparation for this activity. For more information on pollution prevention, see the Suggested Reading list found at the end of the Haz-Ed materials.


  1. Gather the following materials:

  2. Read Fact Flashes 1 and 7 to prepare your lecture.

  3. Distribute Fact Flash 7 and have students read it for homework.


Class #1

  1. Discuss pollution prevention in class using the contents of Fact Flash 7: Pollution Prevention.

  2. Review with students the definition and categories of hazardous waste. Ask the students for examples of products in their homes that fall within each of the 4 hazardous waste categories.

  3. Distribute the Student Worksheet, Hazardous Substance Data Collection Form.

  4. Give students a homework assignment to identify all of the hazardous materials found in their homes and record the following information on the Student Worksheet:

    • The name of the product

    • The use of the product

    • Hazardous waste category of the substance (toxic, reactive, ignitable, corrosive-read label for information)

    • Estimated volume of the material remaining in the container.

    Note: Have students tell their parents about the assignment before they start the activity. Caution them not to touch any of the substances or open the containers.

Class #2

  1. Ask the students what kinds of hazardous substances they found in their homes.

  2. On the chalkboard, compile a list of products in each category found in the students' homes.

  3. Explain to the students that their homes will be used as a sample of the homes in the community, and that the sample will be used to estimate the total amount of hazardous substances in all the homes of the community.

  4. Have students calculate the number of gallons (or liters) of each category of hazardous substances they have reported in their homes (1 fluid ounce equals 30 milliliters, 0.26 gallons equals 1 liter).

  5. Calculate a class-wide average of the amount of hazardous substances in each category.

  6. Estimate the number of households in the community, using population information and assuming an average of 3.5 persons per household.

  7. Have students multiply the class-wide average of hazardous substances in their homes by the number of homes in the community to estimate the total amount of hazardous substances in all of the homes of the community.

  8. Discuss how much of each of these products might become hazardous waste-for example, by being thrown away in the trash or poured down drains that empty into the public water system. Discuss where these waste products end up.

  9. Ask the students for ideas on what they personally can do to reduce the amount of hazardous waste. Ask them to name some alternative products that do the same jobs as products containing hazardous substances (for example, baking soda is an alternative to using commercial oven cleaners).

  10. Distribute the Student Handout, Chemicals in the Household. Have students discuss the feasibility of changing people's habits and convincing them to use the alternatives on the list.

Extensions (Optional)

  • Assign a group of students to identify the types and amounts of hazardous waste present in your school. Use the Student Worksheet to record the information they collect. Have them present their findings to the class and encourage the class to discuss ways in which the school could reduce its use of hazardous substances. Consider presenting these ideas to the school principal and the PTA.

  • Have students contact the local health or environmental services department to investigate how much industrial garbage is collected and disposed of each year and what the community government is doing to deal with the potential hazardous waste problems this creates.

  • Have students contact the local chamber of commerce, the county health department, or the local or state government environmental agency to obtain the names of local manufacturers and other businesses that have active pollution prevention programs. Have students interview officials at these companies about what they are doing to reduce waste and prevent pollution. As an alternative, invite local manufacturers and business owners to come to the class to discuss their pollution prevention programs. Local businesses that are working to reduce their wastes most likely would be quite happy to cooperate.

  • Plan a field trip to a local recycling center or hazardous waste collection center. Check with the local chamber of commerce, or local or state government environmental agency to see if there is a household hazardous waste collection program in your area. More information on hazardous waste collection programs can be obtained by calling the RCRA/UST, Superfund, and EPCRA Hotline in Washington, DC, which is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The national toll free number is 800-424-9346; for the hearing impaired it is TDD 800-553-7672.

  • Consider showing a videotape describing pollution prevention. Check with your school or local librarian and with local public television stations for educational videotapes describing municipal, household, or hazardous waste management. For example the League of Women Voters of California's Education Fund produced two award-winning videotapes in 1990. Cleaning Up Toxics at Home and Cleaning Up Toxics in Business outline ways in which citizens and small businesses can significantly reduce pollution. Each tape is available for $29.95 ($49.95 for both) and may be ordered by calling The Video Project at 1-800-4-PLANET. Another video, called The Rotten Truth, was produced by the Children's Television Workshop for its 3-2-1 Contact program. The video is available for $14.98, plus shipping and handling, by calling the distributor, Sony Wonder, at 1-800-327-3494.

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