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  • Writer's pictureJenna Granger

Litter Scavenger Hunt

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

A watershed clean-up activity & exploration of plastic pollution

Grade Level:



Physical Science

  • Properties of Matter

Earth Science:

  • Ecosystems Dynamics, Functioning & Resilience

  • Human Impacts on Earth’s Systems

Tools & Materials

  • SWEP Litter Scavenger Activity Sheet printed out

  • Pencil

  • Clipboard (optional)

  • Garden or other gloves (recommended)

  • Trash bag

  • Recycling bag (recommended)

  • Soap & water to wash hands afterwards

To Do & Notice

1. Question: Does all trash end up in the trash can or does trash end up littered in our watershed?

2. Make a Claim:

  • Do you think there is litter outside? If so, how much?

  • What kinds of litter do you think are most common? Why?

3. Testing Ideas:

  • Designate an area that you are going to study. This could be your backyard, front yard, sidewalk, or you can go on a walk with your parents in your neighborhood.

  • Head outside to your designated area with your SWEP Litter Scavenger Activity Sheet, pencil, trash bag, and recycling bag (if available).

  • Search your designated area for litter. If you find a piece of litter, pick it up and place it in the trash or recycling bag. (Please note: items that can be placed in the recycle bag include: bottles & cans, hard plastics and paper & cardboard.)

  • If that item that you found is on the SWEP Litter Scavenger Hunt Activity Sheet, cross that image off with your pencil. For example: if I found a plastic straw in my driveway, I would pick it up and put it in the trash bag, then cross off the pink plastic straw shown on the SWEP Litter Scavenger Hunt Activity Sheet.

  • SWEP Litter Scavenger Hunt Activity Sheet works as a bingo board. Try to see if you can cross off all the squares in one column or all the images in one row. Go even further, to see if you can cross off every image and get a “BINGO Blackout”

  • When finished, place the bags with the collected litter into the proper trash and recycling bins.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly.

4. Analyze & Interpret Data:

  • How many pieces of litter did you find? Did you find all the types of litter shown on the activity sheet? Did you find any pieces of litter that were not shown on the sheet? What were they? Were there any types of litter that were more common? Were the pieces mostly large or small?

5. Communicate Findings:

  • Where do you think the litter you found came from? Which items could be harmful to people, animals or nature? Do you have an idea for how we can prevent (stop) litter from entering our watershed?

  • Share your results and ideas for solutions with SWEP by sending us photos or videos of your experiment. Post your photos on social media and tag us @sweptahoe on Instagram and/or to @swep4 on Facebook. Be sure to hashtag and follow #SWEPsnippets. If you cannot post directly yourself, send your photos or video to SWEP (

What’s Going On

Litter in our Environment:

  • If litter is not properly disposed of, it has the potential to travel through streets, streams, rivers, lakes and oceans. This litter harms wildlife habitat, transports chemical pollutants, threatens aquatic life, lowers water quality, and interferes with human uses of river, marine and coastal environments. Of all litter, plastic litter has the greatest potential to harm the environment, wildlife and humans. Plastic has been found floating at the surface of the water, suspended in the water column, or on the bottom of almost all water bodies, including Lake Tahoe. Animals, such as birds and fish, often mistake this litter for food and eat it, concentrating toxic chemicals in their tissues, and filling their stomachs, causing them to starve.

Litter in Lake Tahoe:

  • Marine Taxonomic Services is one group partnering with California State Parks to help with the litter crisis in Lake Tahoe. Over the last 8 years Marine Taxonomic Services has removed 28,000 pieces of litter from the bottom of Lake Tahoe weighing roughly 16,000 pounds. SWEP’s sustainability club students were able to use this litter to create art & advocacy pieces to raise awareness of the litter issue in Lake Tahoe. Take a look at our “Is This Your Trash?” blog to learn more about this project and where you can see their artwork on display locally.

  • Another group: Clean Up the Lake has 72-mile scuba dive clean-up planned for summer of 2020. Watch this video: Make a Difference to learn more about their project.

What Can You Do:

  1. Choose reusable items instead of single use items. Items such as shopping bags, water bottles, coffee mugs, eating utensils, and snack bags can all be replaced with durable reusable items.

  2. If you see litter on the ground, even if it isn’t yours, pick it up and throw it away.

  3. Join a local community clean up day or start one in your area.

  4. Become a “citizen scientist” and report the litter you find using the Citizen Science Tahoe application. See more information in the “Going Further” section below.


  • SWEP Green Team members perform at litter pick up at Kings Beach Elementary School:

Going Further

1. The UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center needs your help! Anytime you are at the beach at Lake Tahoe and see litter on the shoreline, pull out your smartphone and use the Citizen Science Tahoe application to record what you are noticing. If you see any kind of litter on the beach click on the Litter-Trash Report and the app will guide you how to enter your observation. Data including beach location, photos, and what kind of material the litter is made out of will be recorded. Visit their website to find out more!

2. Get crafty with the litter you have found:

Thank you to Town of Truckee and our many partners for supporting student's science, sustainability and outdoor learning experiences.

Please review SWEP's Terms of Use prior to using this resource.

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1 Comment

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