Litter Relay: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Learn about the benefits of sorting materials to be reused, recycled, or thrown away.


To learn to think about trash in terms of what should be reused, recycled, or thrown away


  • 10 pieces of clean litter for each team (e.g., cardboard, aluminum, plastic, paper, packaging)
  • One container labeled “Reuse”
  • One container labeled “Recycle”
  • One container labeled “Throw away” 
  • Markers or other writing utensils
  • Copies of the Litter Relay - Planning Sheet (optional)


30 minutes


Begin by making sure that your kids know why it’s important to dispose of trash the right way, and why some categories of trash should be recycled or reused, rather than just thrown away. They should know that recycling is the process of taking an item and making it into another item, while reusing an item is the process of using it as it is, possibly with some alteration. 

Divide the kids into teams and assign each team a number. Provide all teams with the same quantity and types of litter items (e.g., every team might have three pieces of aluminum, four pieces of scrap paper, and five plastic bottles) and ask each team to label each litter item with its respective number. Ask each team to sort its items into three piles—“Reuse,” “Recycle,” and “Throw away”—and to fill in their respective planning sheets. Ideally, each team will have the same number of each category.

Set up three containers (e.g., boxes, waste baskets, large bowls) in a row with “Reuse” closest, then “Recycle,” and then “Throw away” farthest away from the kids. This setup reflects the amount of natural resources required to replace each item (i.e., the farther away, the more natural resources needed). Once each team has assembled its pile, the game can begin. One person at a time from each team races to put one item in one of the containers, taking it from the three piles each group has made. In relay fashion, when the first kid from the team returns, the second kid races to place the next item in the appropriate container, and so on until all the items have been placed in the containers. 

Award the teams points according to the order in which they finish (e.g., 5 points for fastest, 4 for second-fastest, and so on). But now also review the items in the different containers. For every item placed in the proper container (identified by their numbers), the team that placed it there gets an additional point. Add up the total amount of points to declare the winner. 

Follow up by asking the kids how reusing and recycling materials accomplishes the following:

  1. Conserve natural resources? (Fewer natural resources are needed because items are reused and recycled; fewer natural resources need to be extracted to make new items.)
  2. Make the environment cleaner? (Less trash and litter)
  3. Improve people’s health? (Less burning plastic to breathe, less glass and metal that can cause injury)

What changes can the kids make to clean up their neighborhood? (Make less trash, buy in bulk, buy only returnable bottles, use plastic bags over again, fix old things rather than buying new, not littering, etc.) Could they do anything as a group?

This lesson plan is an activity from the Environmental Activities for Youth Clubs and Camps, a resource developed by the Peace Corps Office of Overseas Programming and Training (OPATS). It was contributed by Peace Corps/Armenia.

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