Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, declared Earth Day on April 22, 1970. The idea was inspired by the effect the student anti-war movement was having in the US. He proposed a national environmental “teach-in” to be observed by all school campuses across the US, to bring attention to the environmental catastrophes and degradation at hand. Twenty million people participated in that first Earth Day (Wikipedia).
Now, the holiday has been touted as the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by over a billion people in 192 countries. It is used as a day of action, a call to change human behavior and provoke policy changes.
There are so many ways to celebrate earth day at school; plant a garden, clean up the schoolyard, do a project on a rainforest, make pine cone bird feeders, study the food chain, and how extinction or overpopulation affects it.
Talk about Earth Day, and why we should celebrate it. Discuss the lesson plan: to collect and record trash, make deductions about the trash collected, develop strategies to decrease the amount of trash, and take action on those strategies. Create a record sheet with categories of types of trash students might find.
Working in pairs, have students collect trash from a nearby area and record the types of garbage they find. (*note: have students bring in gardening gloves for protection, and collect garbage in baskets or boxes, so not to waste partially filled garbage bags).
When the clean-up is over, have students compile the data from their record sheets, and create a classroom report of their findings. Students should identify the major sources and types of litter and figure out how much of the litter is actually recyclable.
Work with other classrooms, or other schools, to increase data collection (and clean-up!) compare what was collected at different sites or by different classrooms.
Have the students brainstorm ways in which they can work with local people and organizations to decrease litter. Some suggestions include: writing letters, adding trashcans, making posters, maybe even presenting their findings at a city council meeting. Have the students carry out the strategy, and follow its success throughout the year.