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Natural resources - A world of rubbish

This lesson will focus around tracing what happens to different types of rubbish, where rubbish is transported to be sorted and recycled and the ways in which different countries are involved.

Key questions and ideas

  • Why is recycling important for natural resources? 
  • How is the world connected through recycled materials?
  • Why is China so important for recycling?

Subject content areas

  • Locational knowledge: movement of rubbish between locations as part of a global system of trade; key countries that export rubbish and those that import it for recycling.
  • Place knowledge: links between countries as part of the global rubbish trade and recycling industry; China: key location for recycling of rubbish to extract natural resources.
  • Human and physical geography: trade links between countries for rubbish; extraction of natural resources from manufactured goods; importance of recycling to reduce pressure on extraction of natural resources.



Watch this video about recycling on the Bureau of International Recycling website to identify reasons why recycling is important.

Think about ways you currently recycle and how you could increase your recycling activity.


Around 1.6 million people globally are involved in the recycling industry and approximately 600 million tonnes of material is recycled every year. This generates more than $200 billion a year (this is similar to the entire GDP of Portugal, Columbia and Malaysia). Using recycled materials directly reduces pressure on natural resource extraction, and less energy is consumed.

Download the World of rubbish PowerPoint to find out more about important recycled metals (including aluminium, copper, lead, zinc and tin) and their uses, and how the processes involved in recycling.

Listen to the podcast: Business Daily Money For Old Rope on the BBC website and try to answer the following questions.

  • Why does Adam Minter think scrap is so important?
  • How are profits made from rubbish materials?
  • Why is the rubbish trade rising?
  • Are there any problems with the global rubbish trade?

The main activities for this lesson will focus around tracing what happens to different types of rubbish in terms of where rubbish is transported to be sorted and recycled and the variegated ways in which different countries are involved. 50% of China’s copper comes from scrap.

Increasing demand for copper has placed pressure on supplies from mines which make the recycling of materials which include copper much more profitable.

Read this article on The Atlantic website to learn more about how many of the world Christmas lights end up in China to be recycled.

Using what you have learnt about the global recycling trade, you need to design a storyboard which explains how recycling Christmas tree lights is important for natural resources. You should include the different stages in the life of the Christmas tree lights. Download the cartoon strip worksheet which includes a world map. You should mark on the map key countries and links between countries that are important parts to the story. 


Download the PPT slide which includes a number of statements about recycling and natural resources. Identify the missing words from the bottom of the slide to complete the sentences. The answers for this activity can be found in the Teacher Factsheet.

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