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Case-lesson “Mount Rubbish”
Case-lesson “Mount Rubbish”

Category: Science, nature and man

Level (grade): 8 – 11

Subject: Geography and environment

Objective: To acquire objective and in-depth information about wastes, recycling technologies, and strategies of dealing with them.

What information is waiting for me here?

  • How much rubbish is accumulated on our planet?
  • What recycling methods are there, and are all of them effective
  • Why spent batteries are considered such “dangerous rubbish”?
  • How to deal with space debris?
  • How to build ecological facilities of wastes?
  • How the “art of rubbish” looks like?
8 scans of the subjects, phenomena and practices:

The world can “drown” in rubbish and wastes that people have accumulated throughout the history of its existence. The situation doesn’t just seem catastrophic; it is indeed gaining menacing scales. This problem is worsened by the fact that contents of the contemporary landfills are not only dangerous but also but it is also able to do great harm to environment during many years:

Rubbish is already being burnt, recycled and sorted. Herewith, for some this is detriment and discomfort, as well as it is business and profit for others.

So how can this problem be solved? What are the “keys” to such a complex multifaceted problem?


Statistically, each person throws away approximately 3m3 of rubbish per year. This is household waste, because apart from humanity itself the industry is also involved in the process of rubbish creation. But now we are going to examine only household waste. So, one person throws away about 3 m3 of waste annually.

In January 2016 human population was about 7.3 billion people. That means that the annual “waste stock” of humanity will be:

3 * 7.3 = 21.9 billion m3

Let’s now imagine this amount of rubbish as a huge mountain… What will its height be? To simplify, let’s picture the rubbish mountain as a cone. The volume of the cone is determined by the following formula:


Consequently, the height will be equal to:


Usually landfills are rectangular, but we’re “creating” a mount, so imagine let’s imagine a round landfill. The length of the landfill is on average 500 meters (they are designed for large cities). To use the formula we need a radius – 250 meters or 0.25 km. This way, the altitude of the mount of rubbish will be:


Have you imagined this mount? In how many times it is higher than Everest (Chomolungma)?

The peak of Everest is 8.848 m or 8.848 km.

334.8 / 8.848 = in 37.8 times.

So “The Mount Rubbish” will be higher than the actual Everest in almost 38 times! And that's just household waste for 1 year! It is hard to imagine how high this mountain would be with consideration of industrial waste and in a few more years, as far as waste landfills are being used for decades!

If we compare the calculated height with other geographical parameters, we’ll see the following picture:


So, the peak of this “rubbish mountain” will be hidden somewhere in the Northern Lights area; meteors can burn near it; a little higher spacecrafts will fly.

What would happen if all this rubbish is distributed equally on the surface of the planet? What area will it claim? For real waste landfills the optimal (such that is recommended by the regulations on waste storage) height of rubbish layer can is up to 20 meters.

According to the statistical data, the world has accumulated nearly 2.8 billion tons or 2.8 * 103 billion kg of rubbish. Density of wastes (as a generalized physical index according to the same normative data) is 250 kg/m3. So what volume would these wastes occupy?


This formula can help as calculate the volume of the accumulated wastes (let’s not forget that we are considering billions of kilograms!):


So, what area will these billions of cubic meters of rubbish, if distributed as an even layer of 20 m height, will occupy? Let’s divide volume by height to find the area:


If we convert this value to square kilometers, we’ll get 560 km2. This amount of waste can be accommodated at a landfill of the size of three cities like Milan (181.8 km2), slightly more than the whole Prague or Warsaw (496 km2 and 517 km2), or more than half of Kyiv (839 km2). Herewith, every year the amount of rubbish grows by 7 %...


By the way, the largest waste landfill in the world is located in the USA, in areas of Fresh Kills. It covers the area of 1 200 hectares or 12 km2, which is equivalent to 1 700 football fields. Every day it is stuffed with 13 thousand tons of waste. And for all garbage of the world it would take almost 47 such landfills…


The surface area of Earth is 510,000,000 km2. What would be the height of the layer of debris if it is spread across the earth's surface?

Look for the formula of sphere and determine how many times the volume of waste, gathered inside this sphere, will be greater than the volume of a soccer ball?


Have you ever paid attention to how many products, packaging, used or unwanted items are sent to a trash can? Let’s consider an ordinary cup of tea as an example. A cup of ordinary tea in tea bags, which is brewed in no time. So let’s take a pack of tea. It usually has a protective film (moisture resistant), and ... we throw this film away. Then we take a tea bag.

Often it is also protected by a waterproof “pocket”… the “pocket” also goes to the trash can… Now we’re brewing tea. And what do we do with the used tea bag? We throw it away! Now all the items in the trash can are: film-packaging of the pack of tea, the “pocket” where the bag of tea was, the tea bag itself… And this is just one cup of tea! And in “25 cups” (after you’ve used the whole pack), the pack itself will go to the trash can, along with 24 other tea bags with the protective “pockets”.

So, waste is accumulated and multiplied, it captures new territories; and only a small part of it is recycled. In fact, the problem of accumulation of debris has begun to draw attention already in the nineteenth century. It was the time when the first burning waste factory was created in England. Waste recycling is called in this way because the part of materials (recycled materials) is returned to the production process by the means of this method and acquires the “second life”.

How does the “normal” cycle of waste formation, including the fact that only up to 5% of waste is recycled, look like?


Developing countries increase the volume of accumulated waste by the gradual improvement of living standards and industrial growth. Developed countries have relatively stabilized volumes of waste accumulation by means of the ratio of “storage/recycling”. What is Ukrainian contribution to the global picture? According to some versions, Ukraine is a leader in the accumulation of waste if it is calculated per capita. However, there are other variants of calculation, which present the situation in not so terrible light. In particular, according to the accepted in the European Union technique of garbage volumes estimation (Eurostat), the situation in Ukraine is the following:


It should be taken into account that some countries are ranked not in terms of accumulation but generation. Why? To find the answer let’s examine the experience of a country like Sweden. In this country only 5% of waste goes to waste landfills, the rest is recycled. That means that 95% of all generated waste is involved in recycling. What makes it possible to recycle waste so effectively? First of all, these are balanced, optimal recycling schemes: everything that can go back into production returns there; everything that can be bioprocessed is processed by biotechnological methods; everything that can be used as secondary raw material is used; everything that can be burned with the emission of heat and without causing harm to the environment is burned!

Without what this scheme is unable to work properly? Forget the unpleasantness and imagine an ordinary trash can:

• Can all of its “content” become secondary raw materials? No, because a significant portion is totally unsuitable!

• Can every single item in it be decomposed by microorganisms? No, because some part of it – minerals, inorganic materials – is not biodegradable!

• Perhaps, it is possible to burn it without harming the environment? No! Some debris is damp and will not burn. The other part includes substances that form extremely toxic compounds when burn, so it can’t be burnt without harm to the environment and humans…


So what do we have to do? Just to divide all of it into groups that can be recycled/processed by certain methods. It’s fairly easy to perform – you have to start from the separate collection of rubbish as it is done in Sweden, Japan, Germany and other leading in ecological technology countries:


Experts call this method the selective collection of garbage. It is surely possible to separate garbage at a landfill. But it requires additional production lines, personnel, transportation costs on “distribution” of waste to appropriate departments/institutions. And these are the additional costs that might erase the economic benefit of recycling, make it unprofitable.

The main obstacle in the way of spreading of selective waste collection is ideological and psychological aspects, environmental awareness and environmental education (or rather the lack thereof).

The recycling (utilization) issue is a separate branch of modern scientific research. The science that deals with waste management methods is called garbology. Garbology (from the English “garbage”) or “garbage science” is a separate area of ecology that deals with the study of waste and methods of its disposal. Just like garbology is a kind of archeology, in other words, “garbage archeology”, which studies waste in the sake of research of people’s everyday life.

Several types of waste have become a sad sign of the modern world. The first type is plastic. More and more developed countries are voting for prohibiting the use of plastic bags. Every year more than 100,000 mammals, birds and fish die because of discarded plastic bags. Animals eat them or suffocate.

Another “indicator” of contemporary waste is electrical goods: gadgets, computers and their components. Usually they are mostly stored at special closed landfills.

And what are the other items in the “trash can of humanity”? Every second 3.8 kg of “eco-friendly waste” appears in the world: ort, “natural” waste. It makes 29% of the average amount of waste of a modern man. As for the other components, it is 25% cardboard and paper, 13% glass, 11% plastic, 4% metal and 18% other materials.

Recycling of waste has its holiday in the calendar of international festivals and professional or thematic days. November 15 is the World Recycling Day. The main goal of the celebration is to draw the attention of ordinary people, public and industrial structures to this matter.

There is a Trash Museum in New Jersey, USA. There you can see samples of non-standard, interesting and dangerous waste.


During a week watch how much any what kind of garbage your family throws out. Do you use the selective collection (separate different types of rubbish) or throw everything together? Ask if your family gives something for recycling. Using this information, try to develop a “Home adviser” to reduce the “trash can” of your family and increase its ecologization.


Everything that gets to landfills or garbage dumps can be regarded as expenses. After all, to collect rubbish, transport it to a landfill, store and bury it there in optimal conditions for a long time people have to pay: for establishment and amortization of tanks, personnel salaries, transportation, storage and the associated costs. Then the “financial” pattern will look like this:


And it is possible to follow the way that Sweden has chosen: selective collection of waste and maximum recycling. Through this approach, 95% of waste is recycled. Approximately 15% of this amount of recycled waste goes to the production of biogas, which is used for the needs of public transport. Half of the waste goes into heat production, thus ensuring 20% of heat of all Swedish buildings (900,000 Swedish households). Used paper and plastic are used as secondary raw materials. 30 Swedish power plants operate on waste; so waste to Sweden is a strategic product that can even be imported! Every year the country buys 800,000 tons of foreign waste, mainly from Germany, Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria and Italy. Also, Norway has recently joined this list.

Thus, wastes have to be collected, sorted, some part that can be utilized should be utilized and recycled; everything that can’t be recycled has to be disposed of in environmentally sound conditions. How much money can such a scheme require?

The thing is, the “right” utilization of waste involves the implementation of a complex of special operations with the involvement of significant number of workforce. For example, the work cycle of recycling a “unit” of garbage necessarily includes transportation, disassembly (if necessary), briquetting of ferrous metals (mechanized stage), separation of plastic elements, separation of elements with high content of non-ferrous metals, sorting materials by type and degree of purification.

Let’s take for example the office of a company, where in a year the following types of waste are accumulated: energy saving and fluorescent lamps (up to 100 pieces), worn-out battery (of a company car), a set of tires (of a company car), computers (one set), packaging and paper waste 20 kg, plastic and bags – 8 kg. How much will the utilization of such “trash can” cost?

Since tires are taken for recycling by weight, we will consider the weight of one tire to be about 5 kg. The weight of the battery will be 50 kg.


But this scheme will work only via the selective waste collection method where each type will be sorted. Otherwise, the calculation will take the following form:


Although the difference will not be so impressive, nevertheless it is and can be involved in other needs of the company!

How is it possible to stimulate the implementation of selective waste collection, i.e. sorting and separation of waste in Ukrainian conditions? There are several options proposed by experts.

Irina Miroshnyk, the chairman of “Ukrplastic” and president of the Association of flexible packaging, believes that deep sorting of wastes must be fixed by law. According to her estimates, if at least 50% of waste, especially packaging materials, was recycled, it would be possible to receive a profit of 3.3 billion UAH per year.

That is why the Association proposes the legislative introduction of extended producer responsibility for collection and recycling of packaging materials.

In addition, the CEO of the “Ukrainian ecological alliance” Association suggests investing money in separate collection and transportation of garbage. And more – to stimulate this process by introducing “gradation” of charges for transportation, depending on whether wastes are sorted or not.


Try to calculate the cost of recycling/disposal of wastes for your family or for the “trash can” of your school (class). Consider the prices that are on the site of one of the operating companies-processors (http://www.vtorma.ua/utilizatsiya-othodov.html):


The task can be used as a basis for an accelerative game.


Virtually everybody has heard that ordinary batteries are perhaps the most harmful components of rubbish; they must be collected and disposed of separately. Why? The answer lies in those components that are used for manufacturing of contemporary batteries. Primarily these are cadmium, plumbum, nickel and mercury.


These are heavy metals that are highly toxic, i.e. their effect on humans and the environment is extremely harmful:


But these substances pose a danger not solely by themselves. The products of their combustion or oxidation are also highly toxic. For example, cadmium oxide with concentration of 2.5 mg/m3 is fatal for a living being (if a human breathes the air with this amount of cadmium oxide, it will appear lethal in just one minute!). And this is how plumbum oxide is formed (at the approximate temperature of 600C):


Plumbum in batteries can be contained in a form of an additive if the battery is made of zinc. These are the ordinary saline or alkaline batteries. They contain zinc and manganese, and electrochemical transformations occur, due to which electricity is produced. In alkaline batteries electrolyte is presented by potassium, lithium or sodium hydroxide. Also, the electrolyte can be ammonium chloride and zinc chloride. Zinc and an alkaline electrolyte form a jelly-like mass. This is an anode. The cathode is a mixture of manganese dioxide and coal. This mixture surrounds the anode. However, the anode and the cathode are separated by a porous material – a separator, which “directs” the processes, running inside the battery, in the “right” direction.


What reactions occur in a working battery? Here are schemes of half-reaction of cathode and anode:


It is hereby important that batteries are not thrown in regular bins. After all, the chances of ignition or oxidation of heavy metals, contained in batteries, are extremely high in waste landfill conditions.

The development of modern technology doesn’t allow effective, easy and cheap recycling of batteries. Only a few companies possess technologies of efficient recycling, and these technologies are their protected “know-how”. Therefore, only a small portion of spent batteries is recycled. All other batteries must be kept in a controlled safe environment while waiting for technology development and scientific progress of humanity.



Do you, personally, give batteries away at special collection points or throw them in special containers for spent batteries?


Try and create your own sign for the containers for spent batteries; or a logo of a company, which would recycle such batteries.

Agricultural wastes, food production wastes, household wastes and other organic wastes can be recycled using living organisms. This method is called bioconversion. The result of bioconversion is the formation of biogas. Biogas is a fuel that can be used for heating houses or productions themselves. The scheme of such recycling process is:


What is biogas, after all? When organic matter decomposes without oxygen, a mixture of methane (СН4), carbon dioxide (СО2) and water (Н2О) is formed. This mixture is what we call biogas. Biogas is produced by several types of microorganisms: hydrolytic bacteria, bacteria that form acids and bacteria that form oxygen. Each type of bacteria is nourished by the waste products of the previous type, and the end product is methane.

Organic wastes are pre-sorted or sorted with additional grinding. Then they are transferred to a bioreactor where they are decomposed by microorganisms with the subsequent release of biogas. Biogas is collected, purified and stored in special containers. Bacteria need specific conditions to “work”, thus bioreactors are heated to 65C (sometimes by the same biogas).

Biogas is produced at conventional household waste landfills, as they also consist of a significant part of organic compounds. Wastes are laid layer by layer, which allows to insulate each previous layer of wastes by a layer of soil, thereby isolating it from the air (and this is the exact anaerobic conditions of a bioreactor). Waste organic matter is decomposed slowly, with release of heat. Then the waste layer is being slowly warmed, and comfortable conditions for the “work” of bacteria (which “work” in a bioreactor just as well) are created. The main task is to release this biogas, purify and use it for household or industrial purposes!

So, there is a prospective and technologically processed method of utilization of organic waste. But how to deal with plastic, for example? Modern technologies provide ways of utilization for it as well. For instance, a company called 3D System has developed a 3D printer that uses plastic waste – empty plastic bottles – as a material for printing. This device is called Ekocycle Cube:


This is how this printer works:


Think about kinds of waste that must be recycled in the first place. Why?


Experts estimate that these days the waters of the World Ocean contain approximately 7.25 million tons of rubbish.


How to clear the ocean up? Traditional methods can barely be applied to such a huge mass of water, which is “spilled” across such an exorbitant area. But a student from the Netherlands Boyan Slat has developed his own “water of the World Ocean purification system”. This system really works!

What is its essence? This method uses the natural ocean currents and winds, which “passively” carry debris towards a special platform. Barriers with special construction are located around the platform to prevent rubbish from “escaping” but exclude the risk of getting fish or other living beings to “debris trap”.

The first evidence of the viability of the project is a test collection of garbage near the Azores.

The collected plastic can be used for recycling. For example, as plastic pavement as it is already applied in the Netherlands:

PlasticRoad video from VolkerWessels on Vimeo.

This coating even has several advantages: less weight compared to the traditional one, which results in less pressure on the ground; empty areas in the middle of the coating can be used for engineering purposes. The plastic road is easier and more convenient to mount.

Another option of usage of garbage caught in the ocean is the construction of artificial islands. Rubbish floats, causing damage to the environment, so let it float and give benefits to it! Japan, for instance, has followed this idea, purifying water and “expanding territories” this way:


Here’s a similar technology that is used in other countries:

So, it is possible to build islands and roads of rubbish. Moreover, you can build a house of it: for this purpose people use plastic bottles. A house with such walls possesses noticeable sturdiness. This project is realised in Nigeria under the auspices of NGO Africa Community Trust.



What do think, for what other purposes plastic or other types of rubbish that is extracted from the waters of the Water Ocean can be used?

Mankind has managed to pollute not only Earth. Nowadays, space, or so-called orbital, debris is quite a serious problem. Orbital debris is waste rocket stages, satellites, wreckage… Sizes of some pieces can reach up to several meters, although the majority is similar to sawdust or pieces of paint. But the main threat is not the size of the debris but its extraordinary speed: 27.000 km/h and the number of debris in space, which is increasing in geometric progression.

That's why scientists are trying to solve the problem of orbital debris. They have even developed a few possible scenarios for this:

Such “space clearing” is called regulation. What variant of regulation, in your opinion, would be the most sufficient? Let’s wait for the result…

Rubbish is not only a problem… It is capable of becoming a cause of artistic inspiration. How to deal with used train tickets, for example? American artist Nina Boesch has the answer for this question:


And one sculptor – Leo Sewell – creates animal sculptures of materials that he finds at garbage dumps:


Rubbish can also become a part of street-art. The example is works of Artur Bordalo:

A Brazilian artist Vik Muniz creates both small and monumental works of rubbish that occupy whole floors of the building where his workshop is located. He is inspired by items, found at the largest landfill of Rio de Janeiro:



Which of these works you prefer? Why?


Search the web for information about other artists that use secondary materials or debris to create their works. Prepare a small presentation about their art work.

Accelerated and interactive methods

Accelerative game “Recycling”

The essence of the game: Students are divided into two teams. Each team receives a trash bag (clean) with “garbage”. These can be bottles, used paper or notebooks, old rulers, pens, pencils, cans etc. (all of this “garbage” is prepared by a teacher; it must be clean and easily recognizable). The game should be limited to 5-7 minutes.

The task of the teams is to select as much debris that can be recycled as possible. The team, in whose trash bag less garbage remains, wins. All selected items must be reasoned; if the team cannot explain how exactly they plan to recycle a certain item, it doesn’t receive a point and returns to the team’s trash can.

OBJECTIVE: To revitalize fantasy, mobilize imagination, stimulate logical and tactical thinking and consolidate the material of the case-lesson

Accelerative game “Rubbish race”

The essence of the game: It is possible to use garbage from the previous game. The task for the teams is to sort these wastes by the time of decomposition in the following groups:

• 2-5 weeks

• 2-10 years

• more than 10 years

• more than 500 years

The teams perform this task considering their speed. The team, which completes the task the faster and the most accurately, wins.

OBJECTIVE: Consolidate the material of the case-lesson, learn to operate under limited time conditions, to practice teamwork and ability to delegate authority

Lesson’s summary:




The results and acquired competence:

Knowledge in modern technologies of and waste recycling and disposal

Knowledge in the biological, physical and chemical processes and laws related to recycling or disposal of waste and secondary raw materials

The concept of the cost and effectiveness of recycling



90 min (double lesson) 


Locations of the case-lesson:

The case-lesson is conducted at a classroom, it is possible

to conduct the lesson at a specialized classroom of “Technology”

or “Crafting” subjects



It is possible to form teams: boys and girls, according to the rows, by toss of the coin

The tasks are presented after the scans and in the accelerative games


The possibility to conduct the lesson with a student-understudy: 



Possible homework:

Conduct a mini-study. Watch the “trash can” of your family for a

week or a month. Develop recommendations for its reduction.

What items could be given for recycling?


The results of the case-lesson can be complemented with findings of students



What three websites helped find important information?





To help student and couch:








Where can you get information for the case?























Household waste, landfill, recycling, secondary raw materials,

utilization, bioconversion, biogas, selective collection, orbital debris



Hrabowska Larysa Leonidivna


Participated in the case upgrading:


The End

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