Trash Mountain and Recycled Paper Tree Science Fair Projects


Objective: Teach students about the value of recycling, reducing waste, health and environmental benefits. This project is versatile, and can be used as a group project for a large science fair, or as multiple smaller projects for a classroom- sized fair. The ideal target group for both projects is aimed towards elementary through junior high school students. These projects teach in the areas of environment, stewardship, agriculture, art, earth science and humanities.



* Large trash can. Have class bring in recyclable materials 1-2 months prior to science fair to fill the large trash can. Explain that you need enough materials to fill the trash can for your science fair project. Give them a list of items to bring, including; Newspaper and paper grocery bags, cardboard food/cereal boxes, milk jugs or cartons (rinsed), 2 liter rinsed soda bottles, egg cartons, rinsed aluminum soda cans, rinsed plastic containers such as margarine, cool whip, yogurt, sour cream containers, etc…

* Hot glue guns, and at least 6 dozen glue sticks or several tunes of other fast drying glue.

* Two bags of potting soil & several small hand shovels

* 2 bags of pinto beans

* Large table

* Pennies to fill up a recycled mayonnaise, or glass jar

* Extra large cardboard box, cut into a large flat.

* 1-2 large bags of potting soil

* 2-3 small hand shovels

* 6-10 rolls of scotch tape

* Several rubber stamps and ink pads



For the first part of this activity, the children will be building a “trash mountain.” When the students start arriving at your station explain that that they are going to be building this from the recyclable materials you have collected. The purpose of this activity is so they can have a visualization of what it would look like if these items were not recycled.

1) Place the cardboard flat on the floor in front of your table.

2) Have each student pull out one piece of “trash” from the trash can.

3) As they pick out an item, the students first task is to announce what they have chosen. The teacher should then ask questions about the item, for example “Do they use this item at home? If not do they have friends that use it? What is it for? Is it a food item? Etc…”

4) Their second task is to brainstorm with the group where the item came from. Is it paper or cardboard? Was it made from a tree? Is it plastic? How is the environment impacted by the extraction of each material? Have them answer as a group. Talk about some of the “trash facts” listed above.

5) Their next task is to come up with an alternative to reduce the amount of landfill waste for their chosen item, and talk about it. For example, if it is a box of crackers or cookies… they might talk to their parents about buying bulk foods with less packaging. Talking points may include health benefits of whole food and organic food choices such as reducing the risk of diabetes, long term illness and cancer, drinking water is healthier than soda, fruits are healthier than cookies, etc…Use water glasses instead of plastic bottles…Have them use their imagination to come up with an idea, which they must do before the next task, which is building “trash mountain.”

6) Next have them set their items on the cardboard box and apply some glue so the “trash” will stick together, or use a hot glue gun to hold the pieces together and build up the pile into a mound (trash mountain). Wad up newspaper into balls. See how high you can pile the mound for maximum effect.

If you have a camera/camcorder and laptop available for use, try taking photo’s as the pile gets higher and when it is completed. Load photo’s into laptop/ display when the mountain is entirely built so the next group of children can see the mountain of trash, for the second part of this activity—-dismantling “trash mountain.”


1) When all the trash is used, have the next group begin dismantling, and recycling the “trash mountain.” Explain to the students how they will be demonstrating ways to protect the environment in a few easy steps by up-cycling items what would normally be thrown away.

2) Have each child remove a piece of trash from the “mountain”. What they will do to with it depends on the item they have pulled out. If it is an egg carton, plastic container, milk jug or carton, have them first cut the top off of their cartons, poke a few holes in the bottom, and then go to a soil station. Have them each fill their containers half-way with soil. Have them bury 2-3 pinto beans from 1-2” in the soil and explain that they have now taken something that would have been trash and re-used it, reducing the amount of “trash” that would normally wind up in a landfill. Instruct them when they need to water their beans thoroughly, then to check the moisture content 1-2 times per week, watering before the soil gets dry. Soon they will have a new bean plant growing that they can plant in the garden. In the case of the egg carton, the classroom can divide the seedlings for 12 bean plants.

3) If they pick out newspaper or a  cardboard food box, have them take two pieces of trash; one of each and show them how they can re-use these items as gift wrap by wrapping up a food cardboard/ cookie/cracker box. Have them use the rubber stamps to decorate the packages. Explain how they can put gifts in the boxes such as home-made cookies, or items purchased for birthday parties, etc…. Also you may explain how they can recycle ribbon or string to use for decorative tying, or that they can paint the newspaper for effect. If you have one or two pre-made as an example, they can see how nice the finished product can look.

4) If they pick out an aluminum can or two liter plastic bottle, give them pennies from the recycled jar bank to show how much money they could get at current recycling rates, which is approx five cents per container. Point out that the penny jar is made of recycled glass (or plastic), and how they could make their own jar and fill it with money saved from recycling. If you do not have a recycle for payment program in your area then skip this activity.

Feel free to modify activity as needed to adjust for time or group size. These projects can also be separated into several individual science fair recycling projects, and the “trash mountain” could be made by the classroom prior to the science fair.


Objective: Teach students about the ecological value of trees, the value of recycling, reducing waste, and environmental benefits.

“PAPER RECYCLING FACTS” See talking points from this link to add depth to your project.


* Several large plastic garbage bags for collecting the paper materials.

* Felt Display Board

* Several roles of Velcro tape

* Several roles of scotch tape

* Have class bring in recyclable paper materials 1-2 months prior to science fair to fill 6-8 trash bags. Explain that you need enough materials for your science fair project, and provide them with the following list of items needed: Cereal boxes, cracker & Cookie boxes, newspapers & junk mail, and anything else made of paper

For this activity, you will be building a “Recycled Trash Tree” with your group.  

1) Have each student take a paper item out of the trash bin. Have them discuss where it came from as a group. For example “It came from the forest,” “It came from trees, etc…”

2) If they have chosen cereal, cookie, cracker boxes -these will become the base, or trunk of the tree.

3) If they have chosen newspapers, have them roll the paper up and tape it into a roll. This will become the branches.

4) If they have chosen junk mail, have them wad these items into balls. This will become the flowers on the tree.

5) Next, place a strip of Velcro on the back of each item and have the students construct a “tree mural” from their recycled paper products by placing each item on the felt board to form a tree. Discuss alternatives to using these paper products, and provide several examples of how they are helping to save the trees and forests using the talking points in the links above, and encouraging group conversation.