The Plastic Problem


What was the point of plastic? Plastic is relatively inexpensive to make and highly transformative.

  • Plastics could be pulled into thread and used to create clothing.
  • It is used in parts for the automotive and aircraft industry, that allows us to travel the world.
  • It can be used to create hard building material for furniture, cabinets, glasses and utensils which are impact-resistant and durable.
  • Pipes are often made out of plastic, which doesn’t corrode and is cheaper to make then metal pipes.
  • We use plastic to keep our food fresh and safe for long periods of times. It is used commonly in bottles, bags, and food wrapping to contain goods that we consume on an everyday basis.

Plastic is everywhere. And plastic does not go away. See some Plastic in numbers

When plastic was first invented, humans were not aware of what the consequences would be. Research around plastic had not been established. No one seemed to think about what this incredible invention would mean one hundred years down the road. Back then, it was easy. Now… we know better.

While it may sound like an insurmountable problem, change does happen. It starts on the individual level. To save global, we must fix local. The change starts with you. Where can you make lifestyle changes, or smarter decisions to help prevent plastic in the first place? It is possible, and it is an accessible goal for everyone.

Fix Local to Change Global

Through the individual and community caring, with help from scientific research and exploration, entire countries are capable of change.

  • Rwanda and Bangladesh have banned all plastic bags
  • Canada added microbeads to its list of toxic substances
  • France will ban single-use plastic cups, plates and cutlery by 2020
  • The United States and the United Kingdom have banned microbeads in cosmetics

On a global scale, the United Nations has begun their CleanSeas Campaign to combat the global marine pollution problem. As of October 2017, over 30 countries have formally joined the campaign, declaring their support to its overall goals and taking specific commitments at the national level

UN Environment participates in working groups gathering leading global companies, with the aim of improving plastics management in the upstream production processes and reusing plastic recovered from the ocean.

This initiative is being put into action in the Volvo Ocean Race 2017/2018. Britain’s Dee Caffari leads team Turn the Tide on Plastic in the global sailing race, to amplify the United Nations message. The Volvo Ocean Race holds 3 clear directions in their Sustainability Program: maximize impact, minimize footprint, and leave a positive legacy.

The problem is a big one, and combating it is possible. IF everyone is able to make the little changes in their everyday life to contribute to the larger solution. It all begins with a conversation, an outreach or message to help spread the word just as the Turn the Tide on Plastic team is doing. So ask yourself: what am I going to do today to make a difference? What can I do myself, at home, and in my community, to start the tidal wave of change that we as humans on this planet can create? It all starts today. It all starts with you.


Write a BLOG about one of the following options:

Option 1:

Identify one to three changes that you can make in the following areas:

  1. Your own life/decisions
  2. Your home space
  3. Your community space. This could be a school, center, sports field, playground etc.
  4. In a business.
  5. In the city

Write a blog about how these changes could be communicated and accomplished. Think about both the disadvantages and advantages, and who would be most impacted by this change. Is it feasible?

Option 2:

Challenge yourself by Going Green! "Going Green" is a term that can apply to many different initiatives. It essentially means adjusting parts of your lifestyle to be more environmentally friendly or sustainable. These do not have to be big changes either. Something as simple as bringing your own reusable grocery bags to store, buying products and food that is made locally, or using bringing your own coffee mug to the cafe. All these little changes have an impact on your local environment, and can help influence others to make changes themselves.

You will need a clear jar for this activity. This can be found in your home, such as an empty jam or peanut butter jar, or can be found at supermarkets or dollar stores.

For 3 to 5 days, carry this jar with you. Take it everywhere you go. Every time you use a piece of plastic that would otherwise go into the garbage, put it into your jar. Collect all of your single-use plastic for one week, and see just how much plastic (or how little) you use in 5 days.

After the 5 days, examine the contents of your jar. Write up a BLOG about the experience.

  • Were there any plastic products that you could have avoided?
  • Was there any plastic that was unavoidable?
  • What was the biggest obstacle you faced during this challenge?
  • What advice or strategies would you suggest to others to help them go plastic free?
  • What is something you learned during this experience?

Option 3

Locate a water source away from the coast line. This could be a lake, river or stream that is in a landlocked area of your country. How does water travel in and out of this water source? What journey would plastic take if it were to begin in this water source.

Create a map to demonstrate the journey that both water and plastic would take, starting from your selected water source. Your map could be hand drawn, digital, a photo series, or a stick map. Whichever form you feel most connected to, which will tell the story of your place and the water it is connected to.

If possible, go and visit your water source. What threats can you identify that might impact your water sources? Are there any protective measures in place to protect your water source? Are there any containments already in your water source? Post your map to the Gallery, and include these observations in the description of your map.

If you would like to return to the Ocean and Human Connection page, click HERE

To take the principle quiz, click THIS

Learning Objectives

To understand that the actions we make in our daily lives have an impact on the ocean, and simple easy changes can be made to help minimize the damage that we cause. Recycling is a great way of doing this but even better is Reducing and Reusing!

GRADE: This topic may be adapted for most grade levels 


Science 2:  Materials can be changed through physical and chemical processes. (How are plastics created)

Science 2:  Water is essential to all living things, and it cycles through the environment.

Science 3:  All matter is made of particles.

Science 3:  Wind, water, and ice change the shape of the land. (transporting plastics around the globe)

Science 4:  All living things sense and respond to their environment.

Science 5:  Machines are devices that transfer force and energy (project opportunity: create their own machine to clean up plastic)

Science 6:  Everyday materials are often mixtures. 

Science 7:  Elements consist of one type of atom, and compounds consist of atoms of different elements chemically combined. (compare natural compounds with plastic compounds) 

Science 9:  The biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere are interconnected, as matter cycles and energy flows through them.

Environmental Science 11: Human practices affect the sustainability of ecosystems

Envrionmental Science 11: Humans can play a role in stewardship and restoration of ecosystems

Science for Citizens 11:  Scientific understanding enables humans to respond and adapt to changes locally and globally

Science for Citizens 11:  Scientific processes and knowledge inform our decisions and impact our daily lives.

Science for Citizens 11:  Scientific knowledge can be used to develop procedures, techniques, and technologies that have implications for places of employment.

Environmental Science 12:  Human actions affect the quality of water and its ability to sustain life.

Environmental Science 12:  Living sustainably supports the well-being of self, community, and Earth.



Questioning and Predicting

  • Demonstrate a sustained intellectual curiosity about a scientific topic or problem of personal interest 
  • Make observations aimed at identifying their own questions about the natural world  
  • Identify questions about familiar objects and events that can be investigated scientifically

Planning and Conducitng

  • Make observations about living and non-living things in the local environment

Processing and Analyzing Data and Information

  • Experience and interpret the local environment
  • Use scientific understandings to identify relationships and draw conclusions
  • Compare results with predictions, suggesting possible reasons for findings


  • Demonstrate an awareness of assumptions and bias in their own work and secondary sources
  • Demonstrate an understanding and appreciation of evidence (qualitative and quantitative)
  • Exercise a healthy, informed skepticism and use scientific knowledge and findings from their own investigations to evaluate claims in secondary sources
  • Consider social, ethical, and environmental implications of the findings from their own and others’ investigations
  • Identify some simple environmental implications of their and others’ actions

  • Communicate ideas, findings, and solutions to problems, using scientific language, representations, and digital technologies as appropriate
  • Express and reflect on a variety of experiences and perspectives of place


Science 2

  • chemical ways of changing materials
  • water sources including local watersheds
  • water conservation
  • the water cycle 

Science 3

  • matter is anything that has mass and takes up space
  • atoms are building blocks of matter

Science 4

  • Sensing and responding in human and animals

Science 5

  • properties of simple machines and their force effects (case study of ocean cleanup projects)
  • the nature of sustainable practices around BC’s resources

Science 9

  • matter cycles within biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems (how plastic disrupts this)
  • sustainability of systems

Science 10

  • Chemistry examination - how plastic is created and why it works the way it does 
  • local and global impacts of energy transformations from technologies

Environmental Sciences 11

      • human actions and their impact on ecosystem integrity
      • resource stewardship
      • restoration practices
      • ecosystem complexity 

      Science for Citizens 11

      • actions and decisions affecting the local and global environment, including those of First Peoples
      •   human impact on Earth’s systems
      • applications of materials science
      • beneficial scientific innovations

      Environmental Science 12

      • personal choices and sustainable living
      • global environmental ethics, policy, and law 
      •   availability and water use impacts
      • global water security:


      Vancouver Aquarium Research Programs:

      Chemical Heritage Foundation:

      BBC News:

      How Stuff Works:

      Clean Seas:

      Volvo Ocean Race:

      Continue to Oceans Unexplored »