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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle

Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Romania
Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12
Environment, Health, Science, Service Learning

The importance of recycling to reduce waste, to employ trash in useful ways, and to save the environment all feature in students' review of this letter from Romania.


After studying the letter and engaging in different activities, students should be able to explain how or why

  • Reusing items is key to people living in countries with a shortage of products.
  • Cultural change often starts among younger generations.
  • The issue of recycling is universal, and every person can play a part in it.
  • The oppressive regimes in Romania made people reluctant to participate in activities associated with the past, even if these activities would contribute to the greater good.
  • A recycling program can benefit the students and community.


  •  Map of Romania (find link above)
  • Nina Porzucki's biography (find link above)


  1.  One week before you plan to teach this lesson, bring to class a plastic-foam cup or burger box, a clean disposable diaper, a newspaper, and a plastic soda bottle. Ask students what all these things have in common. [They are considered disposable.] Assign students to keep a daily journal listing all the trash that they and their family generate for one week. Remind them periodically during the week and have them bring their lists with them on the appropriate day.
  2. Locate Romania on a map in your classroom or pass out copies of the map available at the National Geographic Society website. Explain to students that Romania is a country with a long and complex history. For more than 20 years, the country was ruled by a dictator named Nicolae Ceausescu (pronounced chow-SHESS-koo), who was overthrown in 1989. When he was overthrown, the country started to build a free society. The United States tried to help; one way was by sending Peace Corps Volunteers into the country, beginning in 1991.
  3. If students do not know what the Peace Corps is, give them some background information. Then introduce them to Nina Porzucki. See her biography.
  4. Distribute Porzucki's letter. Ask students to read it, identify a problem that bothered her, and determine how she went about solving the problem. After students have had ample time to read the letter, discuss the story with them.
    1. What do the three words of the title mean? How do they relate to Porzucki's problem?
    2. What details does she give that tell you how and why she and the Romanian people practice "personal recycling"?
    3. Why do the Romanians resist recycling programs?
    4. How does Porzucki find a solution to this issue?
    5. What do you think Porzucki means when she says, "One person's trash may be another person's treasure." What is the larger implication of this statement?
  5. Put a chart like the one below on the board or on an overhead projector. Give examples of plastic-foam items (e.g., "peanuts" for packaging, coffee cups, egg cartons, meat trays) and paper (e.g., telephone books, newspapers, junk mail, student essays).

    Product % of landfill
    Plastic foam  
    Disposable diapers  
    Plastic products  
    Paper products





  6. Ask students to estimate the percentages of landfill waste that these items constitute, based on what they found in their own trash inventory. Then fill in the percentages with the following figures from Bill Hammack, a chemical engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    Product % of landfill
    Plastic foam 1 %
    Disposable diapers 2 %
    Plastic products 15 %
    Paper products

    40 %


    42 %


  7. Ask students what could be done to reduce some of this waste. Have them look at their own lists and come up with some suggestions. What could they do as individuals? What could the school do? Their families? The community? Manufacturers? Put three columns on the board or overhead, labeled Reduce, Re-Use, and Recycle. List students' ideas as they suggest them.
  8. Assign students to research what kinds of recycling programs are available in their school and local neighborhoods. What incentives might encourage people to recycle more?

Frameworks & Standards

 Enduring Understandings
  • Reducing waste and recycling can have important consequences for the environment.
  • In countries where consumer goods are in short supply, people learn to do more with less.
Essential Questions
  • How does a lack of consumer goods affect the lives of people?
  • Why are recycling and reducing waste important?

National Science Education Standards
Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives 


  1.  If your class is interested in a student service-learning project, Coverdell World Wise Schools has a full student service-learning unit available.
  2. Social studies classes may be interested in learning more about Romania's history and culture. The U.S. Department of State has a fact sheet about Romania. The Embassy of Romania has a website that contains information on Romanian geography, art, and culture.
  3. Language arts teachers could use Porzucki's letter as a model for teaching writing. Have students identify sentences in which Porzucki uses examples to make the point that many items we ordinarily throw away can be re-used. Ask students to write a main point, or thesis, and then to provide sufficient examples, either brief or extended, to illustrate or prove their point.
  4. Art teachers can use this essay as a starting point for making a poster on recycling.
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