Trash Bag Relay

Turn a relay race in to an investigative, hands-on trash sort!  Students have fun as they learn the concepts of reduce, reuse and recycle.


  • Two bags of identical clean trash.  Use an assortment of bottles, cans, packaging, paper products, old clothes, and toy food. Make sure you have enough for each child to have at least one turn.
  • Two trash cans
  • Two recycling bins


  • Explain what can be recycled with examples of each (paper, plastic bottles, aluminum and tin cans).  Note: Though glass jars and bottles can be recycled, it is safer to leave this material out of the game.
  • Place the two bags of trash at one end of the room, at least four feet apart.  Have each team lineup behind the trash bags.  At the other end of the room, place the recycle bin and trash can opposite of the trash bag.
  • Explain that each student will have a turn (one by one) to pull an item from the trash bag (to save time, instruct students to pull out the first item they touch.) Once the item is selected, the student will walk to the recycle bin and trashcan and decide: can the item be recycled or does it have to go in the trash?  The item is then placed in the appropriate container.
  • The student then walks back and tags the next person in line, who then takes their turn.
  • Continue until the bag is empty.


When the race is over, have the students sit in front of the recycling bins and trash cans.  Pull items from each container and ask students if the item was in the right place.  Discuss how some items might be reused.  With disposable items, discuss how the volume of wastes could be reduced if other choices were made. It's fun to give a point to the team that finishes first and for every item placed in the proper container.

The activity can be repeated, introducing the concepts of compost, reduce and recycle.  If the student can think of a way the item can be reduced or reused, have them place it next to the recycle bin in a reuse pile.