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The Office of Sustainability provides educational materials, technical support and helpful resources in the areas of waste reduction and diversion, energy conservation, and watershed and coastal community protection. All available resources are free for all public, private, charter or home-school educators in San Mateo County. Please contact us at sustainability@smcgov.org, subject line: Schools Program, to let us know how we can help you.

Schools Program Lessons

Our team of educators is continuously creating or curating classroom lessons to support environmental awareness,  increase environmental literacy, inspire environmental stewardship, support sustainability in action, and increase environmental awareness across traditional educational subjects. We work with the San Mateo County Office of Education to structure lessons using the 5E curriculum model, and follow NGSS and Common Core Standards. Click on the links in the lesson descriptions to access student-ready printables and teacher lesson plans.

  • students playing recycling relay
  • students composting at school
  • students learn about composting




Up to three separate board style games help students learn the foundational principles of waste sorting, recycling, composting, the solid waste management systems of San Mateo County, and waste impacts to local and global natural resources. The games help empower students with information needed to better conserve resources and adopt 4R’s practices. 

4R’s Games Teacher Lesson Plan PDF

4Rs Games Pre or Post Assessment (Student)


(1ST – 3RD)

Young students will test their waste sorting knowledge by placing everyday school waste items into the recycling, compost or landfill categories with this cut and paste printable activity.

4R’s Sorting Activity Student PDF (English)

4R’s Sorting Activity Student PDF (Spanish)

4R’s Sorting Activity Teacher Lesson Plan PDF 



Let students have a healthy competition to complete 4R’s actions at home with this printable 4R’s BINGO activity.

4R’s BINGO Student PDF

4R’s BINGO Teacher Lesson Plan PDF



Students will get straight to waste fundamentals to explore properties of what makes a material “waste” and study three different disposal methods: recycle, compost and landfill. With this information, they will understand how humans create systems to manage waste as well critically assess their own waste related habits.

What is Waste Student PDF

What is Waste Teacher Lesson Plan PDF



Students will learn that all materials we need or make come from natural resources found in different ecological environments. In Part 1 of this activity, students will go on a scavenger hunt to identify common household items made from natural resources. In Part 2, students will make a connection between five natural resources, the ecological source those natural resources come from, and common everyday items made from those natural resources using a cut and paste activity.

Humans Use Natural Resources Student PDF

Humans Use Natural Resources Teacher Lesson Plan PDF



In this hands-on activity, students will examine the differences found in the structure of paper fibers from different paper and paper composite products. The lesson invites students to then start thinking about the process of making paper from recycled paper pulp. 

The Story of Paper Student PDF

The Story of Paper Teacher Lesson Plan PDF


(6TH – 8TH)

Put your STEM hat on because it’s time to build a landfill. Modern sanitary landfills require engineers to protect groundwater, people and wildlife from the long-term effects of the accumulation of our garbage in one place. In this activity, students will learn about some of the considerations to keep in mind as they build their own model landfill with the additional challenge of protecting groundwater. 

Build a Landfill Student PDF

Build a Landfill Teacher Lesson Plan PDF

virtual learningFree 4R’s Games for You!
Did you know that you can request free 4R’s Game sets to keep in your classroom or library? Students love playing these games year round and teaching others how to play them. Request your free 4R’s games today!
The 4 R's Board Game - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot

Students love our 4R’s Board Games! Keep a free set in your classroom for rainy day play and 4R’s education throughout the school year. Choose 1, 2 or all 3! Games available are: 

Game 1 – Where Does It Come From and Go? 

Game 2 – The Pathway of Stuff

Game 3 – The 4R’s Board Game

Game boards are laminated for long-term use and we’ll replace lost game pieces when needed. We deliver and have staff available to facilitate the first round of play at any time throughout the school year. Contact us to request your 4R’s games: sustainability@smcgov.org

What Next?

  • Tell us what lesson plan you would like us to work on.