Let’s Learn about “Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling”

This post was written by JMM School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read more posts from Paige, click here!

“At first, I thought it was a dirty job that doesn’t pay much, but now I think it’s a good paying job that requires good business/economic skills.”

(7th grade student expressing how their view of the scrap industry has changed after seeing Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling)

23 students from Hamilton Elementary/Middle School gathered around a motorbike as we introduced them to scrap – junk, discarded material that has the potential to be recycled or reused. With JMM’s educators they considered what materials the motorbike could be scrapped for – its steel engine, plastic panels, alloy wheels, rubber tires. This was the beginning of their journey into the scrap industry.

Students start their experience of the Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling at a de-assembled motorbike.

During their visit, the 7th-graders stepped into the shoes of prominent immigrant families in the scrap business. They became the Schapiro Family, the Pinkert Family, the Hettleman Family, the Bannerman Family, and the Gershowitz Family, as they bought, processed, and sold scrap materials.

Buying and selling scrap came in the form of the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s very own original Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling Board Game. Students played in the role of the family they just learned about. Five games were conducted simultaneously with a student from each family at each board. Students represented their family and competed against the others for the different sources of scrap. Turn by turn, they made decisions about which scrap objects to purchase and which to skip – knowing that those objects might get scooped up by another family if they pass them by.

Representing their family business, students bought scrap objects for their copper, plastic, paper, and iron.

Considering what the scrapped object was made of was critical to their decision making and success. Purchasing a computer would provide plastic and copper, but no iron or paper when scrapped. Plastic bottles resulted in scrapped plastic, but no other materials. Purchasing an old train gave a family iron, paper, and copper, but no plastic.

Once students had spent all their money (or ran out of turns), family members came back together to pool their purchased objects and tally their resources. What was once a room full of loud exchanges, “I need more copper!” or “I have zero plastic!” became a room of hushed voices as families determined how much plastic, iron, paper, and copper their scrapped battleships, newspapers, or cell phones produced.

After a family added up their resources, they discussed what resources to sell and when.

With a scrapyard full of materials, the families were ready to hit the market and sell their materials for profit. Educators conducted this in two rounds, so students had to decide what to sell in round one and what to save for the next round where the value of their material changed based on supply and demand. A flurry of discussions took place as families decided what their best move was. “We should sell some, but not all, of the plastic [in round one].” “Maybe we sell iron first?”

After the families sold their scrap, they calculated their profit. Anticipation built as a student from each family announced their earnings:

Bannermans …. $81    Schapiros …. $49    Gershowitz …. $76    Pinkerts … $82 The Pinkerts cheered with excitement as they took the lead in profits. However, one more family was left to report. Hettlemans … $92! The room erupted in celebration as the Hettleman family was declared the winner of the day.

Throughout the game, JMM educators encouraged students to shift their understanding of scrap and consider treating trash as a resource. The 7th graders thought about the role that immigrant families played in establishing the scrap industry in America and how family businesses passed from generation to generation. The class learned first-hand the skills these entrepreneurial families needed to thrive in the industry. Students stated they thought business skills were important, along with knowledge of the market and material values, math skills, and good listening skills (to both the market and your family).

Students were asked to reflect on the question, “after going through Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling, how has your view of the scrap industry changed?” Their responses showed their level of engagement with the program:

>My view has changed because now I understand that this job is a lot harder than it seems.

>It’s more serious than I thought. You have to listen to your employees, and you have to have good trust skills.

>It seems more complex than the simple scraping and selling most people describe it as

Students worked together as a team to represent a family in the scrap industry.

 The Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling exhibit goes beyond making cross-curricular connections to social studies, math, and science, by encouraging students to take action. We hope that students think of themselves as upstanders. An upstander is someone who sees a problem and works to solve it. After considering the history of the scrap industry, students made connections to the industry today and what their role in scrap recycling is. The 7thh graders shared one action that they could take at home or in school to encourage others to recycle or upcycle their scrap:

>Start a recycling and upcycling club

>Making posters telling people what to recycle

>One action I can take home or [to] school is using the recycling bin more.

>For starters, I, myself, can pick up recyclable items and encourage others to as well.

>Recycling plastic bottles, cardboard, and paper everything we don’t need them anymore

Thank you to Hamilton Elementary/Middle School for being the first class to visit our new special exhibit Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling and play our board game. Our education team is looking forward to exploring the scrap industry with more students and teachers. The exhibit is on display until April 24, 2020!


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