Skip to main content

Novel Coronavirus — September 22, 2021 Update: Explore Scouts Canada’s actions as we continue to follow the direction of government and health agencies in maintaining public health. View recommendations and stay informed here. Learn more about Scouts Canada's new vaccination mandate.

Landfill in a Bottle

How long does it take for garbage to decompose? Try simulating your own landfill in a plastic bottle and learn about how long it takes for different waste to decompose.

Back to Activity Finder

Plan

  • What materials will you need for this adventure?
  • What kinds of things do we throw away?
  • How long does it take garbage to break down?
  • Why does it matter if we throw away lots of garbage?

Do

  • Ask an adult to help you cut the top off of your bottle.
  • Cover the sides of the bottle with something to block light from getting in (construction paper or a paper bag works). This simulates the conditions in a landfill, where sunlight can only reach the top layer of dirt.
  • Add dirt and garbage to your bottle, alternating a layer of garbage with a layer of dirt. Your top layer should be dirt.
  • Mist your top dirt layer with some water.
  • Take your bottle home and place it near a window – add water to your landfill daily, or as needed to keep the top layer of soil damp.
  • Check on your landfill regularly – do you see anything breaking down? Are some items breaking down faster than others?

Review

  • Which items broke down the fastest? Did that surprise you?
  • Did you learn anything about throwing out garbage?
  • What can you do to try to throw out less garbage?
  • Take a look at the items that broke down the slowest – is there anything you can do to reduce the amount of those items that you use?

Materials

Per landfill (per person or small team)

  • Plastic bottle - 1L or 2L pop bottles work well
  • Paper bags/construction paper
  • Tape
  • Dirt (from a yard, not a bag)
  • Different kinds of trash (apple peel, plastic, aluminum foil, etc.)
  • Spray bottle with water
  • Tarps or newspaper to cover the floor or tables

Keep it Simple

  • Make one landfill per small team, rather than per person. Have a Scouter bring them home and bring them back to your meeting every few weeks so you can see the landfill’s progress.

Take it Further

  • Did you know that landfill also creates gasses as items decompose.  If you add a balloon to the top of your bottle, you can also keep note of the gases that are created during decomposition.