Educator Resources: Eco-Theme #2: Waste (with non-fiction PB titles)


Let’s Talk Trash…

Time for my second blog post focusing on eco-themes for teachers/educators and pairing them with some of the nonfiction picture books I use with my students to highlight the material.

The eco-themes are based on the wonderful Sustainable Intelligence curriculum offered by EcoRise, an organization with a school based program aiming to empower youth to tackle real-world challenges in their schools and communities by teaching environmental literacy, social innovation, and hands-on design skills. EcoRise offers engaging, ready-to-use, K-12 curriculum that guides students in building sustainability knowledge.


You can read my original post HERE, where I talk about my experience as a Teacher Ambassador for EcoRise.

The 7 eco-themes in EcoRise’s Sustainable Intelligence curriculum are water, energy, waste, food, air, transportation, and public spaces. All of these are centered around the important concept of sustainability.

Note: If you’re a teacher and would like information about sampling the EcoRise curriculum (or possibly gaining access through a grant in your state), send me a message and I’ll be happy to help you connect 🙂 


This post will focus on Eco-theme #2: WASTE

In October, I spent time focusing on WASTE  in my classroom. My elementary students explored questions such as, “Where does our garbage go?” and “How can we reduce the amount of waste we produce?” They also brainstormed ideas for re-using and recycling materials, as well as reducing plastic waste in our community and around the world. Extensions led to discussions and research about pollution. The foundation for my lessons came from EcoRise’s Sustainable Intelligence curriculum.





Here are some nonfiction books I used to help underscore the eco-theme of WASTE and spark questions & curiosity:


One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

Written by Miranda Paul

Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

A wonderful read-aloud book full of hope and ingenuity.

Publisher’s Synopsis: The inspiring true story of how one African woman began a movement to recycle the plastic bags that were polluting her community.

Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way. One plastic bag became two. Then ten. Then a hundred.

The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease. Some bags were burned, leaving behind a terrible smell. Some were buried, but they strangled gardens. They killed livestock that tried to eat them. Something had to change.

Isatou Ceesay was that change. She found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community. This inspirational true story shows how one person’s actions really can make a difference in our world.

Ages 6-9 | Publisher: Millbrook Press TM | February 1, 2015 |ISBN-13: 978-1467716086


Blog_Ecotheme_AdasViolinAda’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

Written by Susan Hood

Illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Publisher’s Synopsis: From award-winning author Susan Hood and illustrator Sally Wern Comport comes the extraordinary true tale of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, an orchestra made up of children playing instruments built from recycled trash.

Ada Ríos grew up in Cateura, a small town in Paraguay built on a landfill. She dreamed of playing the violin, but with little money for anything but the bare essentials, it was never an option…until a music teacher named Favio Chávez arrived. He wanted to give the children of Cateura something special, so he made them instruments out of materials found in the trash. It was a crazy idea, but one that would leave Ada—and her town—forever changed. Now, the Recycled Orchestra plays venues around the world, spreading their message of hope and innovation.

Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers | May 3, 2016 |        ISBN-13: 978-1481430951


What a Waste: Trash, Recycling, and Protecting our Planet

Written by Jess French 

I used sections of this book to read aloud and discuss with the class.

Publisher’s Synopsis: Everything you need to know about what we’re doing to our environment, good and bad, from pollution and litter to renewable energy and plastic recycling.

This environmental book will teach young ecologists about how our actions affect planet Earth. Discover shocking facts about the waste we produce and where it goes. Did you know that every single plastic toothbrush ever made still exists? Or that there’s a floating mass of garbage twice the size of Texas drifting around the Pacific Ocean?

It’s not all bad news though. As well as explaining where we’re going wrong, What a Waste shows what we’re doing right! Discover plans already in motion to save our seas, how countries are implementing schemes that are having a positive impact, and how your waste can be turned into something useful. Every small change helps our planet!

Ages 6-9 | Publisher: DK Children | April 2, 2019 |ISBN-13: 978-1465481412


There are a variety of other non-fiction titles that are great for research, but too long for read-alouds, such as:

Blog_Ecotheme_TrashTalkTrash Talk: Moving Toward a Zero-Waste World

Written by Michelle Mulder

Publisher’s Synopsis:Humans have always generated garbage, whether it’s a chewed-on bone or a broken cell phone. Our landfills are overflowing, but with some creative thinking, stuff we once threw away can become a collection of valuable resources just waiting to be harvested. Trash Talk digs deep into the history of garbage, from Minoan trash pits to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and uncovers some of the many innovative ways people all over the world are dealing with waste.

Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Orca Book Publishers | April 1, 2015 |ISBN-13: 978-1459806924

Blog_Ecotheme_TrashRevolutionTrash Revolution: Breaking the Waste Cycle

Written by Erica Fyvie

Illustrated by Bill Slavin

Publisher’s Synopsis: All the stuff that surrounds us has a life cycle: materials are harvested, the stuff is made and distributed, it’s consumed and then it gets trashed or recycled. Using the typical contents of a child’s school backpack (defined as water, food, clothing, paper, plastic, metals, electronics), this book explores those stages in detail, including lots of ways to reduce, reuse or recycle waste along the way. Children will gain new insight into the routine decisions they make about their own consuming and trashing or recycling practices. For example: How long does it take for a cotton T-shirt to decompose in a landfill? Can a bike helmet be made from recyclable materials? Which is better for the Earth, wrapping a sandwich in aluminum foil or plastic? By learning to use critical thinking skills to make informed choices, children will feel empowered by the important, constructive role they can play in the future health of the planet.

Author Erica Fyvie has found a way to use everyday objects to speak directly to children’s curiosity and their desire to make a difference. With infographics, short subsections, sidebars and charts, the information presented is engaging and accessible. Playful illustrations by award-winning illustrator Bill Slavin help make complex subjects easier to understand, while keeping the tone friendly. From energy to climate, innovations to sustainability, this all-encompassing look at a timely topic is the perfect go-to resource for elementary science and social studies classrooms. Includes a glossary, resources, bibliography and index.

Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Kids Can Press | April 3, 2018 |ISBN-13: 978-1771380782

Blog_Ecotheme_PlasticAhoyPlastic Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Written by Patricia Newman

Illustrated by Annie Crawley

Publisher’s Synopsis: Plastic: it’s used to make everything from drink bottles and bags to toys and toothbrushes. But what happens when it ends up where it doesn’t belong―like in the Pacific Ocean? How does it affect ocean life? Is it dangerous? And exactly how much is out there?

A team of researchers went on a scientific expedition to find out. They explored the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where millions of pieces of plastic have collected. The plastic has drifted there from rivers, beaches, and ocean traffic all over the world. Most of it has broken down into tiny pieces the size of confetti.

For nearly three weeks at sea, researchers gathered bits of plastic and ocean organisms. These samples helped them learn more about the effects of plastic in the ocean. Follow along on the expedition to find out how scientists studied the Garbage Patch―and what alarming discoveries they made.

Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Millbrook Press TM | January 1, 2014 |ISBN-13: 978-1467712835

If you have any other recommendations, feel free to comment 🙂

2 thoughts on “Educator Resources: Eco-Theme #2: Waste (with non-fiction PB titles)

  1. Such an important theme! I’ve read the first three books & Plastic Ahoy.

    I haven’t read this yet, but it sounds great: Plastic: past, present, and future by Eun-Ju Kim

    Kind of related is an older book called Green City by Allan Drummond, about a city that re-built itself into a sustainable community after a tornado. But I just saw that it’s part of a whole sustainability series: Pedal Power, Solar Story and Energy Island so I will have to check them out.

    Liked by 1 person

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