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Baal Tashchit: How Much Do We Waste?

1) Introduction to the idea of Bal Tashchit

Read the following passages to the group:

Whoever breaks vessels, or tears garments, or destroys a building, or clogs a well, or does away with food in a destructive manner violates the negative mitzvah of bal tashchit do not waste or destroy.(Kiddushin 32a)

Bal Tashhit Aramaic for “do not waste” is an idea developed from a Biblical prohibition against cutting down fruit bearing trees during war:

?When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees. You may eat from them, but you must not cut them down.? (Deuteronomy 20:19)

Our sages expanded this prohibition to include the careless destruction of trees at any time. If you should not cut down trees during the dire circumstances of war, then how much the more so should trees be protected during times of peace. By Talmudic times, this concept was further expanded to include all unnecessary destruction or waste.

Ask for reactions to this quote and the ideas that developed from it. Talk about how quickly we use up many of the things that we buy. Do we need everything we use? Can some of these disposable things be replaced with alternatives, with things we can use over again more than we do now?

2) Consumption Statistics

Read some of the statistics on American consumption patterns, emphasizing how much waste we produce, how much we throw away each year. Does this information surprise your students? Do they think their own family consumes or wastes more or less than average? An average amount?

  • The average person in the United States produces 4 pounds of garbage a day (1992 Information Please Environmental Almanac)
  • The average person in the US throws away about 20 pounds of nonfood waste each week. This includes 11.2 pounds of paper, 1.96 pounds of glass, 2.3 pounds of plastic, and 2.4 pounds of metals. (Based on 1990 figures from the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Global Action Plan)
  • The average American uses and discards 690 pounds of paper a year. Average use worldwide is only 100 pounds of paper per person each year. Worldwide demand for paper consumes more than 4 billion trees a year. The vast majority of this paper ends up in landfills. (Lester Brown, et al., Vital Signs 1993)
  • Only 25.6% of the 71.8 million tons of paper waste, 12% of the 12.5 millions tons of glass waste, 31.7% of the 2.5 million tons of aluminum waste, and 1.1% of the 14.4 million tons of plastic waste our country produces is recovered. (US EPA, 1990)
  • It takes 95% less energy to produce an aluminum can from an existing one than it does to produce one from raw materials. (H. Patricia Hynes, Earthright, 1990)
  • Recycling the paper from one Sunday edition of the New York Times would save 75,000 trees. (R.W. Beck and Associaties, Solid Waste Issues and Answers, no. 2, 1989)
  • Recycling plastics save twice as much energy as burning them in an incinerator. (R.W. Beck and Associates, Solid Waste Issues and Answers, no. 2, 1989)

3) Garbage Inventory

Now explain the part of the program that students will be completing at home.

Photocopy the attached chart for the students to take home. They will use it to conduct an inventory of their family’s daily garbage. They can either measure the amount of trash they produce before throwing it away, or they can go through the garbage at the end of each week. After collecting data for the first week, they will begin, in subsequent class sessions, to discuss ways to reduce the amount of trash their families produce by using less, by using products with less wasteful packaging, and by reusing more. Ask them to use the chart to check on their family’s progress and report back to the class once each week for about a month. Give positive recognition to those who are able to reduce trash, and help guide the others to imitate those successful behaviors.

(see attached document for chart)


Copies of chart for everyone to take home.


Learn how much waste is created and to find ways to reduce the impact that each of us has on this planet.

Preparation time

30 minutes

Activity time

1 month

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