Journal of Environmental Education, 1993, Vol. 24, No. 3, 17-22
Eva1 uation of Selected Rec y c I i ng
Curricula: Educating the
SALLY BOERSCHIG and RAYMOND DE YOUNG
ABSTRACT: The authors reviewed past research in environmental education and
identified eight variables as strong predictors of conservation behavior change: ac-
tion skills, knowledge of action strategies, knowledge of the issue, attitudes, locus of
control, personal responsibility, sensitivity, and social norms. Using these eight vari-
ables, they reviewed 14 solid waste curricula from various programs around the
country. The resulting scores demonstrated that solid waste curricula focus mainly
on knowledge and include, to a lesser extent, attitude change and action strategies.
The authors suggest reasons for the omission of action skills, locus of control, per-
sonal responsibility, sensitivity, and social norms and make recommendations to im-
prove the contribution education can make toward mitigating the solid waste crisis
and promoting waste-reducing behaviors.
he generation of municipal solid waste continues to
T increase. The 158 million tons of municipal solid
waste generated in 1988 is expected to grow to 193 mil-
lion tons by 2000. Despite efforts to promote alternative
practices, landfilling remains the predominant means of
managing the nation’s waste.
In response, federal, state, and local governments are
redoubling their waste reduction efforts. Programs are
more integrated than in the past; they combine source
reduction, reuse, and recycling (Office of Technology
Assessment, 1989) and focus on changing individual cit-
izens’ behavior toward solid waste. These activities en-
tail changing purchasing, consumption, and disposal
Sdy Boerschig recently received her masters degree in
environmental education. Raymond De Young i s a pro-
fessor of conservation behavior at the University of
One avenue to changing behavior is through educa-
tion. Recent state recycling legislation has begun to in-
clude specific educational goals. Texas has passed legis-
lation that expands environmental education opportuni-
ties. Oregon’s recycling law now includes recycling edu-
cation as an element of the state’s mandated common
education curriculum (Powell, 1991). Illinois has man-
dated solid waste curricula in the schools to “help stu-
dents gain an understanding of the serious nature of the
solid waste problem . . . and to discover ways that they
can be part of the solution” (Illinois Department of
Natural Resources, 1990). The San Francisco School
District’s curriculum “presents information students
will need to take responsibility for their personal gar-
bage disposal habits’’ (City and County of San Francis-
co’s Solid Waste Management Program, 1987). Minne-
sota curricula states that “studying about” solid waste
is not enough, and that the students must make a differ-
ence “in determining a future where we are in balance
with a l l of our resources” (The Minnesota Environmen-
Journal of Environmental Education
tal Education Board’s Metro Regional Environmental
Education Council, 1990).
One task of environmental educators is to teach
young people about the importance of achieving high
waste reduction because they will eventually make
household and administrative decisions that will affect
the consumption of resources and the generation of sol-
id waste. Our youth are also in the process of forming
values and habits that are easier to mold than to change
and consequently, are more accessible to educational
strategies. In addition, many environmental practi-
tioners view them as agents for change. For example,
after learning the fundamentals of recycling, children
may go home and share the principles with their families
Environmental educators must evaluate whether the
current curricula can promote waste-reducing behavior.
They need to determine which educational variables
promote this behavior. Traditionally, educators be-
lieved that knowledge increases awareness, and that
with increasing knowledge and awareness one would be-
come motivated to act in an environmentally responsi-
ble manner (Hungerford & Volk, 1990). The effective-
ness of this approach, however, has come into question
by education experts, psychologists, sociologists, and
Currently, there are several models that contain varia-
bles that are thought to promote environmentally re-
sponsible behavior. The variables from these models
were used jointly to evaluate current solid waste curric-
ula. The goal was to determine how effective each cur-
riculum is in promoting behavioral changes with regard
to solid waste.
Analysis of the existing models of environmental be-
havior revealed the following eight variables: Knowl-
edge of the issue, Knowledge of action strategies,
Kn‘owledge of action skills, Attitudes, Locus of control,
Personal responsibility, Sensitivity, and Social norms.
The first six were derived from the Hines model of en-
vironmentally responsible behavior (Hines et al., 1986).
Hines et al. meta-analyzed 128 studies that had empiri-
cal evidence on promoting environmentally responsible
behavior. The meta-analysis identified three categories
of variables: cognitive (knowledge of the issue), psycho-
social (including attitudes, personal responsibility, and
locus of control), and situational. Hines also included
action strategies and action skills because concurrent re-
search had suggested the usefulness of various class-
room approaches in achieving a desired environmentally
responsible behavior (Hungerford et al., 1985). These
classroom approaches employed discussions of alterna-
tive issues, development of issue investigation skills, en-
vironmental problem-solving skills, values discussions,
and action-taking skills.
Because educators are unable to directly influence
factors such as economics in the classroom, we elimi-
nated the variable for situational factors. A related as-
pect, social norms, was included as a separate critiquing
variable because of education’s ability to influence
norms, at least indirectly. Finally, we included sensitivi-
ty because of evidence that suggests sensitivity toward
the general environment is a “strong predictor of envi-
ronmentally responsible behavior” (Hungerford et al.,
1985; Sia et al., 1985).
We assessed each of the eight evaluation variables in
the following way:
Knowledge of the hue. Knowledge of the issue en-
capsulates environmental education’s traditional behav-
ioral change model mentioned above. Clearly, solid
waste issues are complex and multi-faceted. The depth
of knowledge can be expanded and built upon through
Knowledge of action strategies. The fundamental so-
lutions for the solid waste problem are concisely stated
in the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. These must
include strategies for specific implementation. Merely
stating that recycling is an alternative to landfilling
waste was evaluated as insufficient. To score positively
on the knowledge of action strategies, the activity must
have addressed how to recycle by including procedural
knowledge (De Young, 1988-1989). For instance, an ac-
tivity that discussed specific ways to recycle paper in the
classroom received a positive score.
Knowledge of action skilk. The distinction between
action strategies and skills centers on behavior. Action
skills engage the students in the actual strategy and/or
develop the skills necessary to competently and confi-
dently carry out the action. If an activity culminated
in a classroom paper recycling project or directed stu-
dents to use the back sides of their old papers for assign-
ments, then it received a positive score for action skills.
Attitudes. Hungerford et al. (1985) defined an atti-
tude as “a complex mental construct (perception) which
emerges out of an integration of an individual’s belief
and value systems.” Thus, attitudes differ from knowl-
edge in that they deal with the affective domain (Iozzi,
1989a, 1989b). Recent research suggests that contrary to
the traditional behavior change model, knowledge is a
necessary but insufficient instrument of change (Braun
et al., 1987). Activities that received a positive score for
attitudes examined, analyzed, or discussed values or be-
liefs toward reuse, conservation, source reduction, re-
cycling, or some other facet of the solid waste problem.
Locus of control. Hines et al. (1986) described locus
of control as
an individual’s perception of whether or not he or she has
the ability to bring about change through his or her own
Boerschig and DeYoung
behavior. The concept is based on the belief that some in-
dividuals do not attempt to bring about change because
they attribute change to chance or to powerful others
(e.g., God, parents. government) rather than to their own
If individuals believe they have the skills to ac-
complish recycling, they are more likely to attempt re-
cycling because they are confident of the success of their
efforts. Education may not be able to directly develop
an internal or positive locus of control. However, re-
search indicates that teaching citizenship action skills
can improve locus of control (Hungerford & Volk,
1990). The knowledge of action strategies and actual use
of these skills in the classroom may result in a motivat-
ing sense of competence and confidence.
The actions themselves, however, may not affect
one’s locus of control. Within the construct of a certain
behavior, one must come to appreciate the potential ef-
fect of one’s individual action. Therefore, recycling in
the classroom would not necessarily improve locus of
control with respect to solid waste issues unless the stu-
dent was aided in relating his or her individual behavior
to the solid waste crisis. As such, activities that clearly
linked a student’s behavior (individually or within a
group) with making a change received a positive score
for locus of control.
Personal responsibility. Personal responsibility sug-
gests a personal obligation or sense of duty to carry out
an action (i.e., a responsibility to recycle or save re-
sources). Included with the personal responsibility vari-
able is a sense of personal investment. Hungerford and
Volk (1990) describe this as identifying strongly with an
issue because one has a proprietary interest in it. This
suggests that if one understands the human involvement
in waste disposal or nutrient cycles, then one will feel a
responsibility to act in what would be his or her best in-
terest (i.e., recycle and source reduce). As an education-
al variable, personal responsibility or investment shows
up in those activities that portray the solid waste issue,
not as society’s problem, but as each individual’s prob-
lem. This interest could be economic or environmental,
but it must be presented as being of a personal nature to
receive a positive score.
Sensitivity. The sensitivity variable refers to a “re-
spect for ecological integrity and a belief that humans
must somehow live in ecological harmony with the nat-
ural environment” (Hungerford et al., 1985). We de-
fined sensitivity as distinct from attitudes in its level of
specificity. The attitude variable focuses on specific as-
pects of solid waste, whereas sensitivity is a generic con-
cern for the general environment. Exposure to very pris-
tine or very degraded environments as well as “quality”
outdoor experiences presumably lead to increased sensi-
tivity. Activities that received a positive score for sensi-
tivity were those that involved field trips to environ-
ments or activities that demonstrated the unsettling im-
pact human interventions are having on the environment.
Social norms. Social norms have been isolated as a
variable to behavior change. It is our opinion that the
classroom is a place where social norms can be both cre-
ated and reinforced daily. We defined social norm activ-
ities as those that reinforce how pervasive recycling or
source reduction is in our society, for example, decorat-
ing the halls of a school with recycling posters. This and
similar activities that emphasized the social aspects of
recycling or source reduction scored positively on the
Selection of Curricula
Solid waste curricula were identified as candidates for
evaluation if they (a) included a kindergarten through
Grade 6 focus, (b) were designed to serve as an educa-
tional resource for public school teachers, (c) were cur-
rently being used, and (d) were available for use by oth-
ers. We selected 14 Curricula from around the country.
We reviewed each activity within each curricula for
each of the eight evaluation variables. If the activity ful-
filled the requirement of that variable, we assigned it a
positive score. We then tallied the scores for the entire
curriculum by each evaluation variable.
Results and Discussion
The scoring of the 14 curricula is shown in Table 1.
The table highlights those variables in which the curricu-
la scored 5 or more points and identifies those that
scored at least 1 point for each of the eight evaluation
Most of the solid waste curricula focused on the rec-
ognition of a problem. However, Hungerford and Volk
(1990) have suggested that more than a recognition of
the problem is needed for knowledge to be an effective
variable in changing behavior. The knowledge must be
an in-depth understanding of the issue. Although most
curricula scored high for including knowledge compo-
nents, many of the scores may be misleading because we
did not evaluate for in-depth understanding. The most
common knowledge themes included refuse amount and
composition, recycling and its processes, litter, packag-
ing, composting, and other disposal methods. Missing
were discussions of the practices or attitudes that thwart
recycling or source reduction initiatives, a critical assess-
ment of the need for packaging, the risks associated
with traditional disposal methods, or even an under-
standing of why trash is generated at all. Knowledge in
these contexts would enhance an in-depth understand-
ing and thus achieve the end goal of the curricula: to
foster responsible solid waste behavior.
The knowledge of action strategies was the next main
focus of the curricula. Strategies were usually discussed
during the activity with a question such as “What could
Journal of Environmental Education
TABLE 1.-Evaluation Scores for Each Curriculum
Name of curriculum Attitudes Sensitivity
A-Way With Wasteasb
Don’t Waste Waste
4th R Recycling
Here Today, Here
Let’s Put Waste in
Solid Waste Activity
Solution to Pollution
Note. Numbers in boldface type denote a score greater than or equal to 5.
‘Denotes a curriculum that scored at least 1 for every evaluation variable.
activities designated for K-6 grades were evaluated from this K-12 grade curriculum.
you do to reduce the amount of refuse you make?” (Illi-
nois Department of Natural Resources, 1990). Another
problem associated with the action strategy activities
was that suggestions were often given without providing
appropriate procedures. For instance, one activity di-
rected students to write to their congressional represen-
tatives but failed to instruct them on what to write or
how one goes about preparing such a letter.
Attitudes, locus of control, personal responsibility,
sensitivity, and social norms all scored relatively low
across all 14 curricula evaluated. Attitudes may be sys-
tematically neglected because schools stay away from
the affective domain (Iozzi, 1989a, 1989b). Locus of con-
trol was also conspicuously absent. An example of an
activity pertaining to locus of control would be to have
students calculate what the results would be if the whole
school recycled all their paper, and then have them in-
itiate a recycling program in the classroom. Hearing and
visually interpreting the number of trees saved and the
amount of energy saved from one’s individual effort is
certainly a confidence-building concept and a possible
catalyst for change. Several of the curricula instructed
students to calculate how much solid waste their fami-
lies generate, yet few activities had students look at their
individual waste generation. Even fewer addressed the
solutions (i.e., behavior change) as a responsibility of
each individual. We speculate that this reflects a general
reluctance to teach individual responsibility for the
problems of solid waste and a tendency on the part of
educators to isolate students from the adult world they
will soon inhabit.
Although sensitivity was also largely omitted, educa-
tors may view sensitivity as a separate subject from solid
waste. However, although other curricula in the schools
may deal with the sensitivity issue, the effect of solid
waste prevention and management on the planet’s eco-
logical balance must be noted in solid waste discussions
Recycling is quickly becoming an expected and often
mandated behavior. The schools are an obvious place to
reinforce social norms, via making posters or public
service announcements about recycling efforts. Al-
though reinforcing social norms is not a traditional ob-
jective of curriculum, activities promoting waste reduc-
tion as a social norm could become a part of curriculum
that has as a goal the initiation of behavior change.
There are a number of ways to develop skills neces-
sary for students to behave in an environmentally con-
scious manner. Case studies, issue investigation, and ac-
tion research are tested teaching methods that effective-
ly lead to skill development and behavior change.
Monroe and Kaplan (1988) suggested that case studies
are an effective teaching method that lead to direct ac-
tion. Case studies offer students an opportunity to see
that others have made a difference within the context of
a specific issue. Case studies are concrete, relevant, and
Boerschig and DeYoung
often inspiring and can direct students toward success-
ful action strategies.
Action research is a methodology whereby students
engage in a problem-solving process while continually
reflecting on their work and evaluating its effectiveness
(Bull et al., 1988). It departs from the other methods in
that students come to understand the situation through
taking action, rather than first thoroughly understand-
ing the problem and then considering an action.
Issue investigation, another methodology, conscious-
ly incorporates all the variables used in our evaluation
except social norms. Research on this method found
that issue investigation and action training “did foster
overt, independent responsible environmental behavior”
(Ramsey & Hungerford, 1989). This methodology intro-
duces students to an environmentd issue and then devel-
ops skills in problem solving, evaluating, and action
taking. Ramsey and Hungerford (1989) reported a sig-
nificant increase in overt environmental behavior as well
as significant changes in locus of control, knowledge
(perceived and real) of environmental action skills, and
perceived skill in the use of environmental action skills.
Experts project that 5 to 10% of our nation’s waste
can be reduced, 25 to 35% can be composted, and 40 to
45% can be recycled, leaving only 10 to 30% to be incin-
erated or deposited in landfills (Environmental Task
Force, 1986). Education can serve as a tool to reach
these goals. Yet after reviewing the existing curricula,
we found that curricula designers and educators are iso-
lated from researchers and their findings.
The following recommendations are aimed at increas-
ing the effectiveness of our nation’s solid waste cur-
1. Educators should provide students with feedback
on their contribution to the generation of solid waste
and involve them in direct actions aimed at reducing
their individual impact. Educators might also consider
guiding student actions in arenas other than the class-
2. Educators should discuss attitudes surrounding
3. Educators should learn how to use locus of control
interventions and understand how education can change
one’s locus of control where such change is called for.
They must explore ways of incorporating locus of con-
trol activities in their curricula.
4. Educators should incorporate visual aids and out-
door experiences in the curricula to illustrate the prob-
lems associated with solid waste and better sensitize stu-
dents to the environment.
5. Schools should emphasize waste reduction as a
social norm. If students learn about the solid waste
problem in the classroom, discuss recycling and com-
posting as possible solutions, and then go to the lunch-
room where all leftover food and refuse is thrown to-
gether for disposal, they may become confused. Stu-
dents should investigate and act on these issues.
6. Finally, educators and researchers must cooperate
in order to explore and produce curricula that will effec-
tively address the needs of our nation in the reduction of
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