Resources for Schools – Plastic

Plastic Facts

The first man made synthetic plastic was produced using methods invented in 1907, by a chemist called Leo Hendrik Baekeland.

Most plastic is a polymer made from fossil fuels, oil and gas, which have taken millions of years to form and are a non-renewable resource which we cannot replace. In fact plastic accounts for 4-8% of global oil production.

Plastic is a very versatile product as it is relatively cheap to produce, lightweight, strong and can be made into a multitude of colours and shapes. It is used in anything from vital hospital equipment, car and aircraft parts, clothing, hard hats to ping pong balls and straws. The word plastic comes from the Greek “plastikos”, which means capable for being shaped or moulded.

It is estimated that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since plastic was first developed. That’s more than a tonne for every person on Earth. Most, about 6.3 million tonnes, has simply been thrown away.

What is the problem with plastic?

  • Most plastic is designed to be used only once – food packaging, balloons etc. – Worldwide up to 600 million plastic bags and 60 million bottles are used every hour- that’s a lot of plastic!
  • Plastic takes over 400 years to break down so even when it is thrown away it can still cause damage for a dangerously long time. Plastic doesn’t break down completely – it just gets smaller and can end up being swallowed by fish, birds and other animals.
  • A large quantity of plastic ends up in the oceans by accident – a lot of it has blown from overflowing rubbish bins or landfill site into rivers, sewers ….
  • Less than 20% of waste plastic generated each year is recycled worldwide. Of the remainder about 70% goes to landfill and 30% is incinerated.
  • Not all types of plastic can be recycled effectively.

What can plastic be recycled into?

There are 7 types of different plastic.

Not all plastics are recycled. Some types (1 (PET) and 2 (HDPE)) are easier to recycle than others. Some get contaminated with food waste and cost more to be recycled (take-away food and drink containers). Some plastic types (3,4,5,6 and 7) are often not worth recycling.

Plastic marked with No 1 PET (soft drink bottles) – can be recycled into new bottles, containers, carpets, fleece jackets and other clothing…

No 2 HDPE Plastic (milk bottles and cleaning product bottles) – can be recycled into lots of new things: fence posts, garden furniture, compost bins…

Ideas/Activities for the classroom/school

Do a plastic audit :

  1. Get children to count and record the number of single wraps & packaging in their lunchboxes. Then discuss and show them practical ways to reduce plastic waste. Do a recount a few weeks later and see if there is a difference.
  2. As a class count up all the items made from plastic used in the classroom over a week/day. Look at creative ways this number could be reduced – perhaps using recycled materials to store art supplies etc.
  3. In the classroom or school count and record how many different plastic products you can find displaying the recycling symbol.

Encourage plastic free lunchboxes.

Request supplier deliveries are plastic free.

Choose reusables for school events.

TOCK would love to hear about how, as part of the TOCK Team, children are helping to ‘SAVE THE EARTH’. Let him know what you have been doing and he can share it on the website for the rest of the TOCK team to see.