OBJECTIVE: The students will be able to examine product packaging to determine whether packaging is excessive and whether it is recyclable. The students will be able to identify waste reduction techniques.

RESOURCES: Empty food containers, calculator, postal or other scale, chalkboard or handout.


1. Ask each student to bring to class a food container from home. Boxes and packages should be empty. Cans, bottles, jars, etc. must be rinsed clean, and labels left intact. Be sure to include lids or caps. (It may be necessary for the instructor to provide examples and extra containers as needed).

2. Have the class separate into groups according to the container materials the students have provided: aluminum, glass, steel or tin, paper, plastic, multi­material, etc.

3. Ask each group to examine its container labels and determine the weight of the product. Net weight will identify the weight of the contents only. Gross weight will denote the sum of the weight of container and its contents. (Most weights will be stated as net weight).

4. Using a scale, have each student determine the weight of his empty container. Each group should complete a chart (on the chalkboard or on a handout) with each student entering the name of his product, the package weight as determined, the weight of the contents, and the gross (total) weight. Consistent units of measure must be used throughout the class (ounces or grams).

5. Have each group calculate the average percent of packaging for the group's products using the formula:

Average Percent of Packaging
Total Package Weight (A)
Total Gross Weight (C)

Display the results for each group on the chalkboard.

6. Discuss with the class the various group results. Which packaging material offers the least percentage of packaging weight and which the most? What advantages do each of the packages offer? Does some packaging seem excessive? Are some products packaged in a variety of materials?

7. What implications can be made regarding the cost of packaging, costs for transporting the products, and waste disposal requirements for packaging?

8. Ask each member of the class to examine his container label for the presence of a recycling symbol. Students locating a recycling symbol on the packaging should be asked to define the term "recyclable". (Recyclable materials are those materials which can be collected and processed for use as a raw material in the manufacture of the same or a similar product.) Which packages can be made from recycled materials? Which packages are identified as recyclable?

Are any of the packages that do not display a recycling symbol recyclable? (Packages made from aluminum, cardboard, glass, steel/tin, paper, and certain plastic packages, including two­liter bottles and milk jugs are recyclable).

Does any one group have more recyclable packages than the others?

9. Ask the class to identify methods of reducing waste from product packaging. (Buying products with less packaging, buying products in bulk quantities, buying products in refillable containers, packaging made from recyclable materials, etc.).

Packaging Material: ___________________


Package Weight
Net Weight
of Contents
Gross Weight
of Product
(Note: C=A+B, B=C-A, A=C-B)

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