Hi I’m Laura, and I’ll be sharing with you the lesson Trash Trouble in Paradise.
This lesson looks at solid waste management by using a real-life case study on where to put a new landfill on the island of O’ahu. This introduces the idea of environmental justice and the challenges that come when trying to store waste in an equitable way.
When students finish this lesson, they will be able to define and identify examples of environmental injustice. They’ll analyze demographic, wealth, and education data for three communities, role play a city council meeting, and use qualitative and quantitative data to write a proposal to advocate for a community on O’ahu.
This lesson works well for high school classes in environmental science and human geography (both AP and general) as well as government, economics, and English Language Arts.
This lesson may be divided into two class periods, with one class period focusing on research and writing, and the second class focusing on the city council debate. Let’s take a closer look!
We start this activity with a 3-minute video that introduces students to the concept of environmental justice. We’ll want students to be thinking about how and why environmental challenges can disproportionately impact certain groups, including communities of color.
We want to explore a real-life environmental justice issue. Introduce students to O’ahu, and let them know that they’ll be deciding where to put a new landfill on the island. Landfills have negative impacts on the surrounding environment and on communities, so residents are understandably concerned about where exactly it will be cited.
The lesson plan includes a short article with comprehension questions to provide some background on this issue. It outlines the history of waste management in the state and describes the struggle of determining where to put a new landfill in Oah’u.
Pick five students to be the City Council. They will ultimately make the choice about where to put the landfill. Divide the remaining students into three groups. Each group will represent one of three communities under consideration for where the new landfill should go.
Students will either represent Wai’anae, Kahuku, or Kailua. Each community is noticeably different in terms of their economies, income levels, demographics, education, and issues important to the residents.
Every group will receive a Community Data Sheet, which provides demographic, economic, and other statistical information. It includes things like median household income and the racial makeup of each population. They will also receive a short Community Profile, which provides some background about their specific community.
Students use an included Planning Guide, along with the background article, Community Data Sheet, their profile, and independent research on the internet, to begin to construct a proposal for the City Council. They’ll want to identify the specific needs of their community, and outline the conditions under which they would be willing to accept the new landfill.
While the community groups are researching and writing their proposals, the students selected as city council members should be investigating all three of the communities, and planning questions to ask.
And now it’s time to debate! Invite representatives from each group to present their proposal to the city council, and to answer questions about their plan. During questioning, students can also consider possible addendums or changes that would make their proposal more appealing.
When all of the arguments have been heard, it’s time for the city council members to vote on which proposal should be accepted, and where the new landfill should be placed.
When the decision has been handed down, we’ll use some discussion questions to assess the process as a class. Ask students to evaluate whether or not the ultimate decision is “environmentally just.” Were the concessions from the city council enough to offset the problems with the landfill? Have these problems been distributed equitably among all the communities?
Ask: “How do you think that people from each community might differ in their ability to attend council meetings to advocate for their rights?” Students might identify the barriers for low-income residents to attend city council meetings, such as commute times, transportation costs, or conflicts with work or childcare.
Finally, we ask students to think about the factors fueling environmental injustice as a whole. If placing landfills is detrimental to communities, what are some things we can do to avoid having to place more landfills?
Trash Trouble in Paradise works so well as a way to see how a local environmental issue intersects with wealth, race, education, and demographics, and how to see how systems contribute to disproportionate impacts on certain communities.
For more information on this lesson and more, check out our website at PopulationEducation.org. Thank you!