Green Consumerism

Solid Waste Lesson Plan: “Green Consumerism”:
How Your Shopping Habits Impact the Environment
(Developed by the York County Solid Waste Authority © 2001) 

Ages:  10 and up
Group Size:  Up to 100

Students examine consumer shopping habits to understand how product packaging and lifestyle influence their product selections, and how their selections directly impact the environment.

Using a presentation and group discussion format, students will compare and contrast consumer habits over a span of centuries, analyze a variety of today’s common products to determine which are the most environmentally friendly, and recognize how their consumer choices can influence product development for better or for worse.

Laptop computer with projector or overhead projector, screen or blank wall. Examples of a variety of products. All materials provided by the Authority.

Science, environmental studies, history, advertising, marketing, economics, math. Discussion, deduction, comparison, analyzation, real-life application.

40 minutes to 1 hour (adaptable to grade-appropriate length).

Indoors. Classroom.

Vocabulary Words
Consumerism, “green” consumer, disposable, source reduction, packaging, post-consumer waste, hazardous waste, waste reduction, advertising, supply and demand, municipal solid waste.

Consumers comprise a very influential group whose shopping habits can help or hurt the environment. Today, more than in any other period in history, consumers are bombarded with a wide range of products from which to choose. The availability of vast product lines coupled with today’s fast-paced lifestyle has resulted in the development of countless products that often put convenience ahead of environmental impact considerations.

One-third of all municipal solid waste generated consists of product packaging! Since the average York Countian generates about six pounds of garbage a day, this means that two out of the six pounds of garbage generated consist of product packaging alone! By making intelligent shopping choices, consumers can play a key role in helping to reduce waste. For example, by selecting a small can of juice concentrate over a six-pack of juice boxes, consumers limit how much product packaging ends up in the garbage.

Over-packaged products may save consumers time, but they cost more money. Compare the cost per unit of a product such as snack pack cereals versus the same cereal purchased in bulk. You may be surprised to find that the cost per unit is often more than doubled for individually wrapped products.

Consumers who want to be “green” consumers or “environmental shoppers”, must learn to recognize and reject overpackaged products and choose those products that come in recyclable packaging. Another way for consumers to reduce waste is to buy only what is needed or reuse something already on hand. “Green” consumers avoid disposable products (razors, diapers, etc.) and by doing so, automatically avoid creating needless waste streams. There is much consumers can do to keep waste from ever happening. This is true right down to taking one’s own cloth, paper or plastic bag along on each trip to the store.

If you buy only what you need, reject overpackaged products, buy products that are recyclable or are made from recyclable materials, reuse or share leftover products with neighbors, recycle the recyclable products you purchase, and react to packaging and other practices that adversely effect the environment by voicing your opinion to the manufacturer, you are practicing “GREEN CONSUMERISM”!


Using the overheads and provided materials, a speaker will combine a visual presentation with audience participation to communicate key areas of emphasis. Those key areas emphasize the impact of consumer choice on the environment, source reduction of waste, the influence of advertising and lifestyle on consumer choice, and how to identify products that negatively impact the environment.

Evaluation Tool
Quiz questions (and answers) will be provided for teacher use. Students will be able to describe what “green consumerism” is and recognize how to identify products that impact the environment in both positive and negative ways. Students will understand that as consumers, they play a key role in helping to reduce waste at its source by making smart product choices.


  1. Redesign a product that has negative environmental impact into one that is more “environmentally friendly”.
  2. Audit your family’s purchases after the next trip to the grocery store. How many products are overpackaged or bad for the environment? What alternate selections could have been made to reduce negative impacts to the environment?
  3. Pick a product that you feel has a very negative impact on the environment. Write a letter to the manufacturer outlining why the product is bad for the environment and suggesting ways it could be improved.

How to Get this Lesson Plan Into Your Classroom
This lesson is available at no cost to any York County school or civic group and is presented by a member of the Authority’s Education Center staff. All materials and handouts associated with this lesson plan are provided by the Authority. Call 717-845-1066 to schedule a presentation of this lesson plan for your class or assembly program.