Engineering Solutions


Print and distribute a copy to each student:

Engineering Solutions Photo Credit: Clipart.com


To use Internet resources to explore the side effects of technology; to design, implement and evaluate solutions related to the problem of waste disposal.


Research suggests that some high-school students believe that scientists and engineers are more capable of making decisions about public issues related to science and technology than the general public. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p.335)

It is important to raise students’ level of comfort with issues of technology by giving them experience with proposing solutions, carrying them out, and analyzing the results. In this activity, several groups can design and execute the solution to a problem, then compare results with one another.


Ask students if they have ever heard about something called the "garbage barge." If they haven't, explain that it was one of many barges that carried garbage. In the late 1980s, this particular barge became infamous because it could not find a place to unload its garbage. It seemed that none of the communities it went to wanted to accept the garbage. The barge became a symbol for the solid waste problem in the United States and it helped spur action by many organizations and individuals to find other ways to handle trash.

Now, ask students to brainstorm about the kinds of things that they use at home and school each day. Ask them to consider the types of materials out of which these things are made. Keep a list of their repsonses on a large sheet of paper or on the blackboard. Then go further and ask students:

  • In general, do you think that all of these things should be thrown away when you're dong using them? Why or why not?
  • Out of the materials listed here, are there any that you think could be reused or recycled?
  • What do you think cannot be reused or recycled and should be thrown away?
  • Do you think there could be other ways to handle trash that we haven't talked about?


Have students read the Introduction and Solid Waste sections of the Garbage site from Learner.org. After students have read the Introduction, you may want to have them pause and ask them these questions:

  • How much trash do Americans generate each day?
  • What are sustainable practices?
  • What are unsustainable practices?

Now have students go on and read the Solid Waste section. Once they have finished reading that section, ask them these questions:

  • According to this article, how much trash do we recycle?
  • How do we dispose of the rest of the trash that is not recycled?
  • What are some of the options for disposing of solid waste?
  • What are the environmental impacts of these methods?

Now have your students read Possible Solutions for Solid Waste. Then ask them:

  • Are there solutions to the problem? What are they?
  • What are some common recycling programs described by the authors?
  • Is there a downside to recycling? If so, what is it?

Go to Trash Timeline, which offers an abbreviated history of the advancements in sanitation over the past 1000 years. Have students work in groups to choose five significant technological advances from this timeline.

Ask students:

  • What problem do you think this technology was designed to solve?
  • What were the benefits of this engineering solution? Are we still experiencing its benefits?
  • Were there any drawbacks? If so, what were they?
  • Could this engineering solution have contributed to our current garbage problem? How?

Have groups present and defend their ideas. Create a class timeline of these events.

Have students work in groups to investigate a plan for reducing the school's garbage at Recycle City on the EPA Explorers' Club website. In addition to looking at the benefits of their engineering solutions, students should look at potential drawbacks, including cost, safety, appearance, environmental considerations, and what might happen if the plan fails. Have students create flyers, posters, and/or other displays to alert other students to the importance of reducing waste.


Have groups present their proposed engineering solutions. Have individual students write a journal entry in which they explain the benefits and drawbacks of this solution.


To extend the ideas in this lesson, you can lead your students through these other Science NetLinks lessons that deal with issues in technology:

Did you find this resource helpful?

Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks