For the Classroom
Let's hope your school has a recycling program. If it doesn't, be sure to check with your garbage pickup to see if you can set one up. You can teach your students some important concepts about recycling no matter what your school's recycling program looks like. With their own hands-on recycling projects, children can begin to picture the recycling loop.
What Is Plastic?
There isn't just one kind of plastic; there are many. There are seven that are most common and can usually be identified by a number enclosed in a chasing-arrow symbol on the bottom of the product. Not all of them are recyclable everywhere. Check with your local facility to see which plastics it will recycle. The numbers denote the following categories:
#1 polyethylene terephthalate (PETE or PET) is mainly used for clear bottles. They can be colored, but they are always transparent.
#2 high-density polyethylene (HDPE) is mainly used for “cloudy” milk and water jugs, opaque food bottles, laundry soap containers, bleach bottles, and shampoo bottles.
#3 polyvinyl chloride (PVC or V) is used in some cling wraps, soft plastic containers, shower curtains, flooring, plastic pipes, soft plastic toys, and more.
#4 low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is mainly used in food storage bags, plastic grocery bags, and some “soft” bottles.
#5 polypropylene (PP) is mainly used in rigid containers, like yogurt tubs and some cups and bowls.
#6 polystyrene (PS) is mainly used in foam clamshell-type containers, meat and bakery trays, clear take-out containers, and some plastic cutlery and cups.
#7 all other plastics is mostly a plastic called polycarbonate, but as more and more plastics are developed, the #7 category also includes newer plastics.
Yes, some plastics are made from plants like corn and potatoes. Since most plastic is made from oil, scientists have been inventing new kinds of plastics made from renewable resources like plants.
Some plastics have been shown to leach chemicals. People should avoid using them for food or drinks, and children shouldn't play with toys made from them. These plastics are PVC, PS, and PC. For almost every product made from these plastics, you can find safer alternatives. Learn more at www.healthychild.org.
Not all plastics can be recycled, even if they have the chasing-arrow symbol on them. What plastics are recyclable in your community? Bring in examples of a variety of plastics and challenge your students to figure out which ones can be recycled and which ones cannot. You can do this in a variety of ways, but one way is to have two piles of the same assortment of plastics and split the class into two teams. Have a race to see who can separate the recyclables from the nonrecyclables the fastest.
Get down and dirty with hands-on recycling by making your own pretty papers from discarded paper. If you want the paper to be specific colors, make sure to keep the construction paper pieces organized by color.
a small tub
frames with screens stapled over them
an old bed sheet
Have the children cut the paper into small one-inch squares.
Fill the tub about halfway with water and lay the screens at the bottom.
Put some paper in the blender, add water until the paper is completely immersed, and blend it into what's called “pulp.” For colored paper, add a handful of newsprint or office paper with a handful of construction paper.
Pour the pulp into the tub of water on top of the screen. Quickly pull the screen up out of the tub. Pull it straight up so it captures a good deal of pulp. Turn the screen pulp-side down onto a piece of sheeting about the same size as your frame (it works best to have some towels under the sheeting to capture excess water). Use a sponge to soak up more of the excess water. Gently pull the frame away from the sheeting; the pulp should stick to the sheeting.
Hang the sheets of paper up to dry overnight. pull the sheeting off and — voilà! — paper!
You can make the papers even more decorative by adding crushed flower petals or bits of confetti or colored thread. You can even put seeds into the pulp so the paper can be planted and grown. This can make a nice gift. Homemade papers tend to bleed when you write on them, so use pencil, pen, or crayon instead of markers.