Out-of-class Activities and Projects (student research, class projects)
Students can research the various projects dealing with plastics recycling in underdeveloped countries. They might begin with “More sites on recycling in other countries”, below:
Students could prepare a class report on the current state of plastics recycling in the US. The class might collect and display examples of materials from the six major categories.
Students could contact a recycling facility in your area and find out how the 6 types of plastics are sorted and processed. They could also research the aftermarket for these recycled materials: After the plastics are sold, what are some of the products manufactured from the recycled plastic? Then they could find examples of these products and make a list of their properties and uses and report to the class their findings. (from ChemMatters Teachers Guide, October, 2000.)
Students might want to investigate the paper vs. plastic shopping bag controversy to see which is better for the environment—and the economy, remembering to include recycling in their analysis.
Students might want to research the PET bottle vs. aluminum can scenario to see which is better for the environment and the economy, remembering to include recycling in their analysis. (See “Bottles or Cans?”, ChemMatters, October, 2000 p 11, for some ideas.)
Students could bring in samples of each the 7 recycle code plastics and describe the properties of each type of plastic, as well as their relative recyclability, based on research the students do on the internet.
References (non-Web-based information sources)
Teegarden, D. Polymer Chemistry: Introduction to an Indispensible Science; NSTA Press, National Science Teachers Association, Arlington, VA, 2004. (NSTA member price: $27.95; non-member, $34.95.) NSTA has published a very comprehensive polymer chemistry book for teachers. Its 10 chapters cover the topic very well. It includes a section for demonstrations and experiments for students to do. The author also discusses how the book can be used in a chemistry class. The book includes a chapter on recycling, degradability and disposal of polymers.
Plummer, C. PET Recycling: It’s Not Easy Getting New Shirts from Old Bottles. ChemMatters, October, 1994, 12 (3), pp 7-9.
Plummer’s article details the recycling process for PET into fibers. It also includes the original “Making and Unmaking of PET” sidebar describing the chemical recycling process for PET that appears in the present article.
Downey, C. Biodegradable Bags ChemMatters, October, 1991, 9 (3), pp 4-6.
Downey describes scientists’ attempts to make bags biodegradable by adding starch molecules at varying sites along the main polymer chains, to aid digestion of the chains by microbes.
Wood, C. Dissolving Plastic. ChemMatters, October, 1987, 5 (3), pp 12-15. The article describes the production and use of polyvinyl alcohol laundry bags, used in hospitals to contain biohazardous laundry. The PVA bags are soluble in hot water. This is one plastic/polymer we don’t have to worry about in the general waste stream!
Black, H. Putting a High Grade on Degradables. ChemMatters, April, 1999, 17 (2), pp 14-15. The article focuses on polylactic acid. PLA, is made from corn and other starches, and will biodegrade over time. This would reduce the need for recycling.
Washam, C. Plastics Go Green. ChemMatters, April, 2010, 28 (2), pp 10-13. Author Washam describes bioplastics, made from natural sources—sugar from corn and, in other countries, from sugarcane, sugar beets, wheat or potatoes. These plastics are designed to be more environmentally friendly as they are biodegradable, so that should keep them out of landfills. But there’s more to that story—in the story. The April, 2010 issue is too new to be in the 25-year CD, but it is available free online at http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_SUPERARTICLE&node_id=1090&use_sec=false&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=5da6cbb4-7c05-4307-833f-5d18b8b1dc6d. Click on “Past Issues and Teacher’s guide” at the bottom of the screen. Then click on the April, 2010 issue icon, and finally on “Plastics Go Green”, a pdf file.
Websites for Additional Information (Web-based information sources)
More sites on recycling The obviously.com website sports the “world’s shortest comprehensive recycling guide” at http://www.obviously.com/recycle/guides/shortest.html. Its concluding statement: “Unless you buy recycled products you are not recycling.”
Here is a 2010 article about Nantucket, Mass, and how they are not only recycling all their waste, but they’re actually mining their old landfill to reduce the trash that’s already there! (http://www.plasticsnews.com/headlines2.html?id=17891&channel=270)
Plastics News has a website that contains an archive of articles on recycling that goes back to 2007: http://www.plasticsnews.com/blog/recycling/.
More sites on the recycling industry A 110-page book in pdf form on plastic waste management/recycling facilities in underdeveloped countries can be found at http://www.waste.nl/content/download/284/2234/file/UW2%20PLASTIC%20ebook.pdf. It contains many photos of smaller-scale machinery in use to recycle plastics.
The Container Recycling Institute, CRI, website contains large number of graphs showing the relative rates of US production, recycling and wasting of PET bottles vs. aluminum vs. steel cans at http://www.container-recycling.org/facts/data.php?materials=plastic.
The Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council contracted a firm to do a study on the total energy, raw material needs and waste production involved in the manufacture of various plastics, from virgin material and from recycled material. You can find this extensive 2010 report, Life Cycle Inventory of 100% Postconsumer HDPE and PET Recycled Resin from Postconsumer Containers and Packaging, at http://www.container-recycling.org/assets/pdfs/plastic/LCA-RecycledPlastics2010.pdf. The file contains tables of data and charts to document the group’s findings, including consideration of the energy needs and greenhouse gases produced by the various methods in the report.
NAPCOR has published the “2009 PET Rate Report”, detailing usage of PET for the last 10 years. You can view it at http://www.plasticsrecycling.org/news/news-archives/8-news-archives/104-2009-pet-rate-report.
More sites onrecycling codes The American Chemistry Council provides a pdf file of information about the SPI recycle codes, the types of plastics, their properties, uses, and products made from the recycled resin. The file, “Plastic Packaging Resins,” is available at http://www.americanchemistry.com/s_plastics/bin.asp?CID=1102&DID=4645&DOC=FILE.PDF.
More sites on plastics The American Chemistry Council website has a page, the Plastics Learning Center, that contains single-page information sheets about lots of topics concerning plastics at http://www.americanchemistry.com/plastics/sec_learning.asp?CID=1102&DID=4256.
SPI, the plastics industry trade association, has a website that offers much information about plastics and recycling, along with lots of information just for people in the industry. View the site at http://www.plasticsindustry.org/.
More sites on types of plastics An extensive coverage of the polymer resin polyethylene terephthalate, PET, including physical and chemical data, can be found at “the full wiki”, http://www.thefullwiki.org/Polyethylene_terephthalate#Polyester_recycling_industry.
The American Chemistry Council website contains a page of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about polystyrene (PS, #6 on the recycling code system) at http://www.americanchemistry.com/s_plastics/doc_pfpg.asp?CID=1417&DID=5332.
More sites on thermoplastics and thermosets NPI, a resin providing industry, has a one-page fact sheet on the differences between thermoplastics and thermosets, as well as a description of several different processing methods for making plastics. (http://www.npiplastic.com/thermoplastics.htm)
“Basic Polymer Chemistry, Part 2” is a slide show of sorts with 19 slides describing properties of polymers. The slide mechanism is a bit disconcerting, and there are ads with each slide. Nonetheless, it includes diagrams of polymer chains that may help students visualize what the chains look like, especially thermoplastics and thermosets. (Unfortunately, I can’t locate Part 1 on the web). You can find Part 2 at http://www.scribd.com/doc/25358409/Basic-Polymer-Chemistry-Part-2.
More sites on reducing—before (or instead of) recycling A video produced by ChemMatters - Episode 2: “Plastics Go Green” deals with bioplastics, a way to avoid putting plastics into the municipal waste stream in the first place, thereby reducing the need to recycle plastics. It’s projected that as much as 20% of plastics (total produced: 200,000,000,000 lbs / year) could be replaced with bioplastics within 10 years. See the 8:30 vimeo video at http://vimeo.com/11077939.
You can find a 34-slide presentation, “Biobased and Biodegradable Plastics 101” from Michigan State University, describing degradability and biodegradability and global standards for these at http://www.plasticsindustry.org/files/events/pdfs/bio-narayan-061906.pdf.
“How Plastic Bottles are Made”, on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T01i_vp2mJE, shows the mechanized process of making PET bottles. It includes several mentions of recycled material as it shows the addition of recycled PET flake to the virgin PET pellets to make 10% recycled plastic bottles. It also mentions at the end that the recycled resin that bottle plants use doesn’t come from recycled bottles, but from leftover new plastic from its manufacturing process.
An animated silent version of the blow-molding process shows the insides of the blow-molding machinery. YouTube has it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSabFFQUr9E&feature=related.
More sites on recycling in other countries There are lots of videos on YouTube showing recycling efforts in various underdeveloped countries:
Recycling plastic bags into fence posts in Nairobi, Kenya, “Plastic Bag Recycling in Kenya”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFq3EoxJg3A “Plastic Recycling in Bangladesh”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kF8OznRoWAU&feature=related “China’s Growing Recycling Industry”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdIeUev22qM&NR=1&feature=fvwp As a follow-up to the previous video, this one shows that UK exports its waste to China for processing there, instead of taking care of it themselves. (The US does the same thing.) See “UK Rubbish Exported to China” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4r3krs8eEY&NR=1.
There are also LOTS of videos showing animals dying from becoming entangled in plastic, or from eating plastic. (I won’t share videos of these; you can find them easily enough.) This does speak to the need to get plastic out of the waste stream and into recycling programs.
There are also videos on debris in the oceans. See, for example, “Destroying Planet Earth: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” from the TV show, “Good Morning America”. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFMW8srq0Qk&NR=1)
General Web References (Web information not solely related to article topic) Plastics New Zealand’s website has a wealth of information about plastics and the plastics industry, including information about recycling. (http://www.plastics.org.nz/factsandresources/typesofplastic/materialfactsheets/?PHPSESSID=43825a1734bae3f02a371421d7fdf03d)
Plastics Wiki is a web site, similar to Wikipedia, just for polymer information. You can find just about anything you’d ever want to know about plastics at this site: http://www.plasticstech.info/processes/.
Plastics News has a very extensive website dealing with all aspects of plastics. Its primary audience is people in the plastics industry, but teachers and students can find a wealth of information on the site. The search feature allows you to search in their database for any polymer-related topic. (http://www.plasticsnews.com/)
More Websites on Teacher Information and Lesson Plans (sites geared specifically to teachers) You can find a 44-slide Power Point presentation covering the basics of polymers at http://www.csun.edu/~bavarian/Courses/MSE%20227/Lectures_Exam1/Ch4-Polymers.ppt. The show could be used as an introduction to polymers for your classes.