Last week, we welcomed Katie, Alison, and Annie from the Ecology Center into our classroom for their “Time for Waste” workshop. In this workshop, students completed an “archaeological dig” in which they compared waste from Native Americans to waste created today in order to examine how what we produce, consume, and dispose of is deeply rooted in our cultural beliefs, norms, and values.
Before completing “the dig” students were given trays containing a variety of items buried in a sand and flour mixture simulating stratum. Each tray represented a different period in time, spanning from the First Nations Peoples of the Great Lakes region to the recent past (2010 - present.) The students found various artifacts which they used to predict the time period they were examining. They then categorized the items into Paper, Organic Matter, Plastic, Metal, Glass and Other and compared the amounts in each category, noting changes over time. The differences were drastic as students noticed the predominance of organic material (and lack of plastic) found from the times of the First Nations Peoples to pre-1900 with a steady increase in plastic after 1920.
Included in our discussion after viewing and graphing the data we collected were the differences in meaning between “organic” as they often see in grocery stores and “organic” as it is used to describe things that are or were once living. They also took notice of how long humans lived without plastic with the idea being that part of any real solution to managing our ever accumulating waste is going to have to involve reconnecting with a way of life that prioritizes the use of organic/compostable materials.