Help your students keep their school campus litter-free by “Adopting a Spot!” The same way they would adopt a new puppy or pet, once students adopt a spot, they have the amazing opportunity to take responsibility for a designated location and keep it clean and healthy!

Toolkit Details

Skill Level: K- 5, Led by a teacher, parent, or administrator 
Climate Crisis Topic: Waste
Project Time: 2 weeks up to a full school year
What You’ll Need: Gloves and/or trash grabbers and buckets/bags to collect litter in

Why It’s Important

Litter damages the environment, harms animals and people, wastes municipal or district money, and makes communities feel neglected and under-valued. 

What You Will Accomplish

Students take action to ensure a specific campus area(s) stay litter-free

Teacher Project Plan Step-by-Step

Step 1: Determine Participants

Use our Adopt-A-Spot Sign-Up Sheet Template

  • Working with a small group of students? Choose 1 or 2 campus spots to adopt.
  • Working with a larger team? Split up into groups and each adopt a different campus spot.
  • Is your whole school involved? Split up by classroom or grade level and identify a campus spot for each group.

Step 2: Set Learning Objectives

Analysis

  • Students will analyze their campus or neighborhood for litter “hot spots”
    • Examples
      • Count the number of pieces of litter found in a specified area over a five minute period of time
      • Discuss which areas would be most impacted by litter (environmentally, economically or socially)
      • Evaluate which areas are most accessible or safe for litter collection

Project Management

Evaluation and Assesment

  • Students will track and evaluate the impact of their project
    • Examples
      • Take a weekly photo of the adopted spot to compare litter collected week-over-week 
      • Tally of pieces/bags of litter collected to compare litter collected week-over-week 
      • Report the impact of their work to the school/city/community

Step 3: Educate Students on the Environmental Impact of Litter

The resources provided below can be shown as a slideshow or printed out as individual worksheets for students to learn.

Education Materials: “Why Litter is Rubbish!”

1. People Make A LOT of Litter!

You might only see a few pieces of litter on your street, but researchers found that on average there are more than 13 thousand pieces of litter per mile of American roadway.  All together, it’s estimated there are 51 billion pieces of litter on all US roads at any moment. [1] If you add in ocean litter, there are more pieces of plastic in the seas than there are stars in the galaxy.

Source: The Journal Record

2. Litter Travels!

A plastic wrapper dropped in the parking lot doesn’t stay there for long. It gets blown to the curb, washed through storm drains into rivers, and out to sea. Scientists estimate that almost 9 million tons of plastic litter end up in the ocean—every year. This is the equivalent of five grocery bags filled with plastic trash sitting on every foot of coastline around the world. [2]

Watch this 4-minute “Mockumentary” by Heal the Bay that follows the journey of a plastic bag that’s been turned into litter.

Watch this 4-minute “Mockumentary” by Heal the Bay that follows the journey of a plastic bag that’s been turned into litter.

3. Litter Hurts!

Litter affects animal and human health. It’s estimated that over 1 million land animals and 100 million sea animals die each year after eating or becoming trapped in litter. Litter also releases chemicals and microparticles as it breaks down in the environment. These toxic particles end up in the air that we breathe, the soil where we grow food and in the water we drink. [3]

Source: https://dribbble.com/Nera7

4. Litter is Contagious!

When people see litter or others littering, they are more likely to litter themselves. In fact, research shows that about 15% of littering is the result of existing litter. [4]

via GIPHY

Environmental Justice: “Why Litter is a Social Justice Issue”

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Step 4: Pre-Activity Reflection Questions

Use following questions to guide students to reflect on what they’ve learned. Provided questions can be accessed in slideshow or worksheet format.

Reflection: Let’s Think About it!

  • Describe places in your school or community where you see a lot of litter.
  • What kinds of litter do you see? What are the most common types?
  • Why do you think these items become litter so often?
  • Why do you think you may sometimes look past litter when you see it?

Educator Observation

  • What answers did you hear from the reflection questions that addressed the learning objectives?

Step 5: Take Action – Adopt-A-Spot Lesson Plan

Lead students in “Adopt-A-Spot” activity with guided instructions. Check out “Pro Tips” with each step for useful help:

1. Assign Roles

Determine who and how many students/staff are participating.

Invite attendees to support your clean up efforts. Use the Adopt-A-Spot Invite and Safety Guidelines Template.

Then, use the Adopt-A-Spot Signup Sheet to track additional participants.

2. Map it Out

Look at a map of your school or neighborhood. Make a list of areas that are full of litter and can be “up for adoption”.

It’s amazing how much more people care about something once they’ve given it a name. Just like you would name a pet, naming “your” spot can build a real feeling of ownership and pride. (Plus, it’s fun!)

3: Prepare Your Materials

Gather your litter collection supplies and choose an accessible location where they can be stored.

Materials:

  • Garden Gloves
  • Trash Grabbers
  • Buckets
  • Bags for trash and for recycling

4: Make a Schedule

Decide a time for each group to begin to clean the litter in their spots. Set up a schedule to check on your spot and keep it clean daily, weekly, or monthly depending on the needs of your spot. 

  • Determine the start and end dates of your campaign. If it is ongoing, plan to check in from time to time to monitor your progress.
  • Use our Adopt-A-Spot Team Organizer to help keep your team organized.
  • Remember to keep your team safe!

Take pictures of your team working in “your” spot. Everyone loves to see themselves and their friends in action. It’s a great way to build a sense of belonging and community. Create a unique hashtag or social media page for your photos.   

You never know what strange and unexpected items a litter pick-up will uncover. Keep a “treasures” list and read the list periodically. Being a litter-buster has a fun side!

5: Track Your Impact

Each group that has a spot should track their progress with our Adopt-A-Spot Litter Tracker. Collect sheets weekly to keep track of your impact.

Take note if certain items are littered more than others, or at different times of year – like fun-size candy wrappers after halloween. Are there things you could do to reduce these items?
Recycle or compost as much of the waste as you can. (Contact your city or waste hauler to find out more)

Create a leader board or use the Litterati app to track your litter pick up to see who picks up the most. Offer a prize for the winning person, team, or classroom!

Step 6: Post-Activity Reflection Questions

Student Reflection: “How did it go?

Once your teams have completed 3-5 Spot Clean-Ups, use the questions below to have students reflect on their Adopt-A-Spot Campaign.

  • What were some small wins that happened during your project?
    • Examples: we found a dollar coin, met my lifelong friends, collected 10 bags of trash
  • What could you do to up your game next time?
    • Examples: use gloves (ew!), collect trash more frequently, write down what we found
  • What’s the coolest thing you found?
    • Examples: snowboard, diamond ring, left AirPod Pro Headphone
  • Which items of litter did you find the most of?
    • Examples: cigarette butts, plastic bags, plastic forks

Real World Application: “How will this apply to your life?

  • What will change in your life now that you have completed this project?

Step 7: Report Students’ Impact

Compile all the data that your teams gathered and complete Adopt-A-Spot Wrap Up Form

Provided Resources