Lesson Plan

Stuff, Then and Now

woman next to rock rings
These mysterious rock rings near Indian Tunnel were left here by Shoshone-Bannock people. What do you think they were used for?

Dave Clark

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Grade Level:
Fourth Grade
Archaeology, History
1-2 hours
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:


Students contrast today's resource consumption with that of Native Americans and settlers. (CLASSROOM ACTIVITY)


  • Students will be able to describe the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources.
  • Students will be able to identify the raw materials used to make most of the products they use.



Americans produce 250 million tons of garbage every year, or 5.6 pounds per person per day-which is a heck of a lot more than we did in the 1840s. Of course, then there were only 13 million Americans and today there are more than 300 million. Even so, our resource consumption and subsequent garbage production has grown much faster than our population. Landfills across the country are filling up and closing down with the waste we create, forcing us to reassess our garbage generating and disposal practices.

How Long Litter Lasts (in years)
cigarette butts (1-15)
wool socks (1-15)
orange peels (up to 2)
banana peels (up to 2)
nylon fabric (30-40)
leather (up to 50)
tin can (50)
plastic 6-pack holder (100)
glass bottle (1000)
aluminum can (500)
plastic bottles (indefinitely)
styrofoam (indefinitely)
plastic bags (10-20)

American settlers and the Native Americans they displaced didn't worry about waste disposal because the country was big, human numbers were small, and their garbage was largely decomposable and non-toxic. All that has changed. We have much more per person to get rid of today, and much of that (plastics, nylon, rubber, vinyl, polyester, and other petroleum products) requires hundreds of years to decompose. Common household waste such as paint and batteries contain toxic materials which can pollute ground water. Sea turtles and seabirds die from eating plastic and polystyrene floating on the ocean. Incinerated garbage can release toxic chemicals into the air. Despite the environmental costs of today's waste problemes, we are in some ways as cavalier now about garbage disposal as we were 150 years ago.

By comparing today's consumption and waste practives with those of 150 years ago, we can better appreciate the consumption and waste issues we now face.

See "Additional Resources" for more information about the history of Craters of the Moon.

From the Teacher's Guide to Craters of the Moon.


copies of the following handouts:

What to Take With You work sheet

Stuff, Then and Now work sheet


Additional Resources

History of Craters of the Moon

Last updated: January 17, 2018