Subject Material

Plastic Fantastic

Published: 06.09.2011, Updated: 03.03.2017
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Pre-reading: In pairs/groups, use 3 minutes to make as long a list as possible of plastic items which you use in your everyday life. Compare and see which group has the longest list.

Vocabulary

Make sure you understand these words before you read the text. Use the dictionary in the link collection to look up new words.

  1. insulation
  2. goods
  3. frame
  4. fittings
  5. chemical
  6. substance
  7. chain
  8. consist of
  9. strand
  10. mould (vb)
  11. heap
  12. divide
  13. examine
  14. stamp (vb)
  15. liquid
  16. disposable
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Plastic household items. Photo.Plastic items It is all around us in our everyday life and we would find it hard and probably impossible to do without it. We buy water and fizzy drinks in plastic bottles, drink out of plastic cups and meat, fruit, vegetables and many other goods in the supermarket are packed in plastic.

 

What is Plastic?

Plastic is used in insulation, window frames, etc. in our homes and new cars are full of plastic fittings, plastic electrical parts and plastic cables. But what is plastic? Well, plastic is the name of some man-made polymers produced by a chemical process. A polymer is formed by joining together many molecules of a substance into a long chain. These polymer chains can consist of many thousands of molecules. You can imagine one looking like a long strand of cooked spaghetti. In a plastic material there will be thousands of these strands. Plastic means flexible and easily moulded, just like a heap of spaghetti where all the strands can slide over and around each other.

Types of Plastic

Plastics are divided into 7 main types and are marked by a symbol with a number inside it. like those below. If you examine a plastic object you should find one of these symbols stamped on it.

Plastic identification symbols. Illustration.plastic symbols  

Uses of Plastics

PET water and juice drink bottles, trays for vegetables
PE-HD bottles for washing-up liquids, bottle caps
PVC window frames, pipes, electrical insulation
PE-LD plastic bags, plastic wrap
PP ice cream boxes, flower pots, rope
PS disposable cups, yogurt and sour cream cartons, CD covers
OTHER e.g. melamine, a more rigid plastic, which is often used for plates and cups

 

Tasks and Activities

Comprehension

Are the following statements True (T) or False (F)? Correct the ones which are False using the information in the text.

  1. Cars contain a lot of plastic parts.
  2. Polymers have long chains of molecules.
  3. There are only a few molecules in each chain.
  4. Plastic is difficult to form into the shape you desire.
  5. Each main type of plastic has its own symbol.

    Solution
    1. T
    2. T
    3. F. There are many molecules in each chain.
    4. F. Plastic is flexible and easy to form into the shape you desire.
    5. T
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Type of Plastic

 

 

Research

Can you suggest two examples for each type of plastic other than those mentioned above?

 

Read and Discuss

A Month without Plastic.
Here you can read the article by Chris Jeavans, who spent a month trying not to buy any plastic articles. Here are her conclusions: A Month without Plastic

  1. When was this article published?
  2. What was her aim?
  3. How many members are in her household?
  4. How many items of plastic waste were there before the project?
  5. How many items of plastic waste were there after the project?
  6. What plastic items did she use most of?
  7. What problems did she have?
  8. What changes will she make in her use of plastic?
  9. Do you think it is practical or necessary to cut out the use of plastic in our everyday lives?
  10. Solution
    1. September 2008
    2. To live for a month without buying anything new made from plastic or wrapped in plastic
    3. 3
    4. 603
    5. 116
    6. Disposable nappies
    7. Shopping was more complicated and organising the use of washable nappies
    8. She now uses a mug at work, takes a reusable water bottle with her wherever she goes and buys bread from the baker instead of pre-wrapped in the supermarket.
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Project:  A Day without Plastic

  1. Organise the class into groups of 3-5.
  2. Make a list of all the disposable plastic items used in the space of one day (24 hours), e.g. yoghurt cartons, plastic cups, containers for take-out food, water bottles, plastic bags or wrap for your lunch, chocolate wrapping, etc. The items may be ones which are reused several times, but they will eventually be disposed of, such as water bottles for example. Groups compare your lists.
  3. For the next 24 hours, try and do without as many of these items as possible. Use a glass for your water instead of a plastic bottle. Again each group writes down all the disposable plastic items used in the test period.
  4. See which group manages to use the smallest number of plastic items per person in the space of 24 hours. Which group had the biggest reduction in the number of plastic items used? Work out the percentage reduction.