Litter found near the Polo Field at Golden Gate Park while walking my dogs.

A Trashy Observation

Most afternoons I take my two pups out for a walk near Crossover Drive @ Golden Gate Park. It wasn’t until the Shelter in Place guidelines started to loosen up, I’ve noticed more people at Lindley Meadow and Hellmans Hollow and noticed an increase of litter near overfilled trash cans. Walking towards Ocean Beach, I observed more overfilled trash bins near the beach.

Ocean Beach Sidewalk Trash

The Effects of Shelter In Place

Since the shelter in place started, I’ve noticed that restaurants and fast food joints who need to stay open operated under take-out mode. There are many times where I got lazy cooking dinner and wanted to buy some take out. We started to see this pattern at least once a week as we noticed plastic containers, take out boxes, and plastic bags were building up in our recycling bins. If this is an issue here at our home, I can imagine collectively there are many families like us who are also collecting their shared amounts of plastics and paper containers and bags.

But hey, they are plastics so we are able to recycle them. I’m doing the environment a favor . . . . RIGHT?

LET’S PAUSE FOR A MOMENT and let’s see what happens to stuff to provide you some context of the life-cycle of things that we buy and consume.
The Story of Stuff Video

Not All Recyclables are Recycled

Comparison between the linear, recycling, and circular economy.

3 Waste Based Economics exist – Linear, Recycle, and Circular Economy. The linear economy is a process where items are consumed and then thrown away. The recycle economy has a linear component but within the make and use process, we are able to recycle the components for other uses. The circular economy assumes that once we consume an item, it will forever go through a repair, reuse, and recycle mode without going to waste.

Being in a recycle economy, our processes are currently experiencing a bottleneck of recyclable waste. Not all plastic and wastes are recycled even if they reach the blue recycling bin. In fact, if certain plastics are not cleaned and rinsed before it’s tossed into our recycling bin, most likely it will not be recycled. As for e-waste, most of those components get transferred to waste sites across seas creating a toxic environment in that area. The recycling economy is a model where recyclable waste ends up in a waste bin to be taken to a facilities that will break it down into components such as plastic beads to be sold for reuse. In addition, having recycle trucks pick up recyclables and transporting them to a recycling plant that breaks down the items for reuse takes energy and adds to our already existing carbon footprint. There needs to be a process that is better.

Transforming My Relationship with Waste

Thinking about all of these factors that goes into a linear and recycling economy is making me re-evaluate my relationship with stuff and waste so that my mindset goes into evaluating my needs and wants, re-imagining how I might want to use the item, and how I can possibly lessen the amount of waste going into our bins.

Needs and Wants

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a scalable vector illustration on white background

All three economies start off with taking something from a source. At this point, we have to evaluate what we need and want. When I need something, the item or the service must fill a basic need. When I evaluate needs, I think about Maslow’s Hierarchy and ask myself “Do I have all the things that fulfill my physiological and safety needs?” If it is doesn’t fulfill my basic needs, it becomes a want and therefore is placed last on my priority list for purchase.

Stuff, Time, and Money

The more stuff we accumulate means the more the time it will take for us to maintain the integrity of the stuff and resources to attain the stuff which is also related to our time. We have to re-evaluate what our goal(s) is and how the items that we purchased is going to help us reach our goal(s)? Is our goal(s) related to our professional and personal growth? If it does, then the item has purpose and therefore the time and resources to attain the item and maintain it’s integrity is valued otherwise it’s a waste of money and time.

Re-Imagining with Waste

Once you own an item, it is your responsibility for every point of it’s life cycle. Before I trash the item, I ask myself does this item have another purpose. If it is does, I’m going to extend it’s life even more and therefore lessen the amount of waste that goes into the bins.


Consumables that we throw away includes food waste, newspapers, paper towels, and egg cartons which for me personally makes up most of the waste that goes into my green bin. These items are then decomposed with the help of our FBIs (Fungus, Bacteria, and Insects) to make the soil needed for my garden to grow lushly.

Gamify Lessening Waste

My goal is to make sure that I lower the levels of trash, recyclables, and organic matter that goes into the waste bins. So far, I’ve been doing a pretty good jobs. For the last 2 months, I’ve never had to put out my green compost bin for pick up as those organic items goes into the compost bin. Recycle bin levels have been low as I’m reusing some plastic to become seedling planters. The downfall behind this method is the amount of time it takes to sort through all items and decide the next life of the item. This mindset goes back to the relationship between time, stuff, and resources. The more stuff you buy, the more time it will take to maintain it’s integrity.

Implications in the Classroom

As I am prepping up for the upcoming distance learning school year, it is a perfect time for our students to be transforming their relationship with waste. Currently our relationship with waste is once it is used, it is trashed. In a circular economy, once it is used, it’s reused, repurposed, or up-cycled. The challenge I want to put on our students is “Why should I value the up-cycling and/or re-purposing of waste and how does that have an effect on the amount of waste going to the landfill or the recycling facility?

The challenge that we will most likely come up against is we think waste is “dirty”. Once we know the life-cycle of waste, it will give our learners a broader perspective and will be able to pick a system within the life-cycle of waste and solve problems within that system. My goal is to design instructions where our students

  • Investigate how the items in their trash bin relates to their needs and wants
  • To reimagine a different life of waste.

. . . . so that they develop and value a circular economy mindset which leads to valuing our environment.

Below is a brief summary of the instructional design I’ve done in the past with my STEAM:Gaia class.


Trash to Treasure

In introducing this concept, I start with the end in mind as our students will be up-cycling or re-purposing something. I find a collection of up cycling videos such as the video below.

Each video will be accompanied with the same 3 questions:

  1. What is being made?
  2. What are those items made of?
  3. If you were to use any one of items thrown away, what would you use it for?

My Personal Trash Archaeology

Our trash bins tell us a narrative about the way we live. I have our students observe and safely sift through their trash bins at home and survey the items in their bin. They determine what those items were used for and whether those items are needs or wants. They describe a narrative of their lifestyle through their trash. They would also determine how they would re-purpose or up-cycle those items.

SF Environment Resources

In the past couple years, I’ve been involved with SF Environment who has been connecting me with Literacy for Environmental Justice. SF Environment has a comprehensive list of lessons that you can use in your classroom to help transform our learners relationship with waste.


Below are some ideas that you can use or build off with to apply the concept of a circular economy.

Making Compost

Students will collect vegan food scraps and investigate, what happens to compost over time. Students will take pictures of their compost in their plastic bin, record their investigation, and collect data around the size of the heap, temperature, color, and the different types of life in the compost.

Plastic and Cardboard Garden

Collect plastic containers and cardboard boxes and grow something in it and more.

Trashin Fashion

View this post on Instagram
#f4f4f4; border-bottom: 2px solid transparent; transform: translateX(16px) translateY(-4px) rotate(30deg)">
#F4F4F4; border-right: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(16px);">
#F4F4F4; border-left: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(-4px) translateX(8px);">

A post shared by Jacob Aringo (@teamaringo) on

Students will use recycled material like plastic bottles, cardboard, plastic bags, etc to make clothing articles. I would teach them how to apply LED circuit so we would have an LED fashion show assembly at our school.

Upcycled Decor

Collecting trash and up-cycle them into holiday or house decor.


0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments