Recycling: Key stage 3

Schools and Education > Recycling: Key stage 3

Key Stage 3 / Junior Cert pupils find out about some of the more unusual items that can be recycled.

This lesson is aimed at Key Stage 3 / Junior Cert pupils and covers the topics of recycling and sustainability. It supports aspects of the following areas of the curriculum:
CCEA (N. Ireland) KS3 Geography – Environment and Society
NCCA (Ireland) Junior Cert Geography
The lesson is based around a video case study of an architectural salvage yard in County Down.

Download the Lesson Plan as a PDF here
Download the Recycling Information Sheet here
Download the Pupils’ Quiz sheet here


  • Pupils will be aware of the wide variety of materials that can be recycled.
  • Pupils will understand the concept of embodied energy.
  • Pupils will understand the benefits to the environment of recycling building materials.


Introduce the lesson by discussing what pupils know about the Reduce Reuse Recycle message already. How many people in the class recycle their rubbish at home? Do they know which materials can and cannot be recycled? Why is recycling important for the environment?
Explain to the class that there are some more unusual materials which can be reused or recycled.
What do the pupils think happens to old buildings when they are knocked down? Where do all the building materials and the contents go to? Tell the class that often these items go to landfill sites and explain that these are harmful for theenvironment.  Landfill sites are filling up so quickly that we will soon run out of space in which to put our rubbish. When the rubbish breaks down it releases greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane into the atmosphere, contributing toclimate change. This breakdown also releases a toxic liquid called leachate which contains heavy metals. Leachate can leak out of the landfill to pollute rivers and ground water supplies.
When we recycle items we’re stopping them from going to landfill. We’re also saving the energy and pollution which would be involved in producing a new product from raw materials.
Ask the class to think about how we could reduce the amount of these building materials going to landfill. What could we do with the old building materials? Could they be reused or recycled? What about the items inside the buildings?

Lesson Development

Introduce the concept of embodied energy. This is the energy involved in bringing a product to market. Using the example of a piece of timber, ask the class to think of all the different stages of the process which require energy. With input from the class, draw a diagram showing where the embodied energy in a piece of timber comes from i.e. felling, transporting, cutting and treating. Then describe how recycling / reusing timber from an old building uses less energy than using a completely new piece of timber.

Hand out the information sheet on recycling old buildings and read over it with the class, to recap on the lesson so far. Then click on the video image in the right hand column and read through the accompanying information. Show the video to the class by clicking on the play button in the video window. Then ask the class to complete the related question sheet (if necessary the video may be played again).


Go through the answers with the class, and then recap on the lesson – reinforcing the benefits of reusing and recycling old buildings and their contents. Ask the class if they are aware of any reclaimed materials they have in their own homes.

Follow up activities

  • Pupils bring in a photograph of an item/items at home which may have been salvaged from the past e.g. from a grandparent’s house, and discuss it with the rest of the class.
  • Pupils are encouraged to think about the embodied energy of the item they have chosen and to illustrate this in a diagram.
  • Pupils compare pictures of historic and modern buildings and décor and discuss which they prefer and why.
  • The class is divided into 2 teams, one of which must prepare and present a powerpoint presentation on the benefits of modern design and decor and the other which must champion the benefits of using reclaimed materials / traditional design techniques. The teams then debate which of these methods is preferable, in terms of both the environmental and the design point of view.