Featured Resource: The Reality of Plastic (KQED QUEST)
Plastic. It’s super useful but it’s also a big problem for the environment. Get a quick overview of the scope of the plastic problem and what some people are doing to try to solve it.

Do Now

How many different plastic items do you use in a day? How many of these are disposable or single-use? How do you think our reliance on plastic affects the Earth? #DoNowPlastic

How to Do Now

Post a video response to the Do Now question in this week’s Flipgrid. You can also post your response on Twitter, Instagram, or in the comment section below. Be sure to include #DoNowPlastic and @KQEDedspace in your tweet or Instagram post.

Try one of these activities along with your response:

  • Upload a photo of all the plastic items in your backpack (including your backpack if it’s nylon!). 
  • Collect all the single-use plastic you use in a day. Share a photo of it along with one way you will cut back on your own plastic-waste footprint.
  • Make an infographic of the plastic items in your classroom. How many are recyclable? How many aren’t? How many are disposable or single-use?

Go here for more tips for using Do Now, using Twitter for teaching, and using other digital tools.


Plastics are everywhere. This light, durable material helps keep our food fresh and is used in everything from clothing  fibers to medical supplies to paint. But the characteristics that make plastic useful also make it damaging to the environment. Most plastics are made from fossil fuels and contain chemicals that leach into the water supply, posing a health risk to humans and animals. Plastics also pollute the ocean, pile up in landfills, and don’t biodegrade. Instead, plastic breaks down into tiny particles that can be deadly to marine life.

The statistics on plastic waste are eye-popping:

  • Almost every piece of plastic ever made still exists.
  • Plastic kills thousands of marine mammals and sea birds every year.
  • 100 billion plastic bags are used in the U.S. every year. It takes 12 million barrels of oil to make those bags.
  • More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide every year.
  • The Ocean Conservancy’s 2015 coastal cleanup collected more than 18 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways around the world. Seven of the top ten items collected were plastic: beverage bottles, food wrappers, bottle caps, straws, bags, grocery bags and lids.

As the environmental consequences of plastic becomes widely known, scientists, environmentalists and everyday citizens are engineering solutions to the plastics problem. Scientists at Harvard have invented a biodegradable plastic using shrimp shells. A Dutch college student found a way to scoop up plastic debris before it’s swept into the ocean. Artists are using discarded plastics in sculptures and collages. Restaurants and cafeterias are turning to biodegradable food containers. Community groups are clearing parks and beaches of plastics and recycling what they find. Currently, only five percent of plastic is recycled.

Once we start thinking about the plastic problem and possible solutions, we start noticing how much plastic is a part of our daily lives. From computers to pencil cases to sandwich bags, plastics surround us at school and home. If we want to help stop the flow of plastic pollution, awareness is the first step.

Read more about the history, uses, and impacts of plastic:

ARTICLE: Plastic: The Popular Pollutant (KQED Learning)

INFOGRAPHIC: The Unintended Consequences of Convenience 

VIDEO: How Much Plastic Is in the Ocean? (It’s Okay To Be Smart)

How Much Plastic Do You Use In a Day? 14 April,2017Andrea Aust

  • Brian Luong

    On March 8th, people around the world came together in order to promote International Women’s Day to empower women and shine light on the inequalities between the genders. Women came together to wear red to show their unity, took the day off, and avoided unnecessary expenses. The campaign was effective, bringing attention to problems women deal with just like how A Day Without Immigrants was effective in their campaign. Some inequalities that women still have to deal with today are the wage gap. Organizations such as the American Association for University Women and National Organization for Women are both working towards educating the public about equal pay. Sadly, many republicans in the senators, including women, are voting against bills which promote equal pay. Another topic which has a huge amount of controversy surrounding it is the Pro Life vs Pro Choice debate. According to a Gallup poll done in 2015, 54% of women were pro choice while only 46% of men were pro choice. Again, there is a divide between democrats and republicans on abortion laws. Men and women across the country should continue to bring these topics to our governments in order to bring about change and work towards gender equality. #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowEquality

  • Kanako

    I think I use many different things made of plastics almost every day. For example, I often buy bottled water and food packed in plastic cups. So, I often conflict between such convenience and environmental issues caused by plastics. This topic reminds me of the shoes made from plastic bottles. (Link… https://qz.com/949729) Like these solutions raised in this video, we need to think more about how to keep balance between convenience and environmental problems. #DoNowPlastic #MyCMSTArgs

    • Melanie Funk

      It’s definitely hard to give up plastic because it is so convenient. I hope they make things that are healthier for our environment yet just as convenient as plastic so we can eventually get rid of plastic completely. #MyCMSTArgs

  • Melanie Funk

    First and foremost we need to be recycling all of our plastic, it’s that simple. Secondly, I admit I use plastic, but there are so many ways to eliminate excessive plastic use and hopefully one day all together. Here’s a website that lays out easy ways to stop your own plastic use http://www.treehugger.com/green-home/11-easy-ways-reduce-your-plastic-waste-today.html. Also, I think it’s awesome that California recently cut out plastic bags and Chico’s been doing it even longer than California as a whole. The more people know how harmful it is, the less they’ll want to use it. #MyCMSTArgs

  • eric m

    the amount of plastic i use a day is really from water bottles and i say its 2-3 bottles a day. most of the time they are reusable and recyclable, but most of the time i use a reusable bottle to drink my water and other drinks out of just because i have been educated on the water industry and all of the crazy things that come with just purchasing water bottles and honestly this dependence us Americans have on plastic is pretty crazy because plastic causes tons of waste problems and effects our wildlife on top of that #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowPlastic

  • eric m

    Couldn’t agree with you anymore there are tons of alternatives then plastic and we should honestly take advantage before its to late,
    #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowPlastic

  • Jess Elm 🐙

    I hate to admit that I only use plastic utensils in my house, but depending on the food, I will try and reuse them. Then ill probably end up using a plastic cup for juice, which also happens to be plastic. Before going to bed I use little plastic flossing picks and I maybe use a water bottle a day as well. All of these listed before are meant to be single use, however I usually reuse the cup and water bottle again. I feel like plastic is in so much stuff today we don’t even realize it. Items I use everyday made of plastic would be my toothbrush, toothpaste, pencil, shoes, and food containers. Our reliance on plastic is catastrophic to the earth. The weight of the entire human population is equal to the amount of plastic we create yearly. The weight is expected to reach 30 billion by the end of the century. #DoNowPlastic #MyCMSTArgs https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/24/plastic-new-epoch-human-damage

  • Celeste Villegas

    I agree that recycling is a key component in helping our environment, but good portion of plastic commodities are not able to be recycled or reused. I think that a recycling is only a small part of what we can do, we could also use more reusable items, buy products that are enclosed in biodegradable packaging and much more. #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowPlastic

  • Jess Elm 🐙

    It really is hard to make the change just because plastic is such a normal thing. If there were easier alternatives that companies used more it would definitely eliminate a lot of the plastic use that keeps growing. Like the plastic bag ban. Because they took it away from us or are charging now, it forces people to think about what they are doing and are more likely to use reusable bags. http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/plastic-bag-legislation.aspx #MyCMSTArgs

  • Celeste Villegas

    I have been able through practice, and education to only needing to buy products that contain plastic in an emergency situation. I make sure that all the products that I purchase will be able to be recycled or reused entirely. I also try to make the most out of my purchases to make sure, i use it until it no longer works. Instead of looking at products as a one time use things, looking at commodities as multipurpose resources you can reduce your ecological foot print. #MyCMSTArgs #DoNowPlastic

  • Julieta Mendez

    I hadn’t realized how much plastic I use or how it affects the environment until reading this article. My shampoo, bodywash, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, etc. are all packaged in plastic. I eat from containers, use plastic pencils, drink from plastic bottles, brush my hair with a plastic brush, and the list goes on. I recycle everything which makes me feel better about all the plastic I use, but I feel like I should try to use less plastics. At first, I was upset that we don’t get free plastic bags at stores anymore, but I understand why now. I think all companies should try to use less plastics, for the sake of our environment. Do you agree that items should be packaged differently?

  • Magda Savin

    Plastic is a big menace of the world ocean today because in areas such Asia and Southern America we encounter every month a new water pollution produced by plastic.
    I’ve realized that countries with less respect for the environment that burn huge amounts of very dirty fossil fuels to generate electricity are producing the highest pollution with plastics.
    On the other side, the countries that have already embraced the benefits of alternative energy compared to fossil fuels have more respect for nature and cleaner waters.


Andrea Aust

Andrea is the Senior Manager of Science Education for KQED, where she has been developing science education resources and providing professional learning for STEM educators for more than 10 years. Andrea graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in Environmental Science and earned her M.A. in Teaching and Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from the University of San Francisco. Prior to KQED, she taught, developed, and managed marine science and environmental education programs in Aspen, Catalina Island and the Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter at @KQEDaust.

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