How can we deal with all the plastic waste?

Lesson overview

With plastic production already exceeding 300 million tonnes per year, the mountain of waste has the potential to grow and grow. This lesson looks at whether recycling can be a solution, before examining three different economic models to see if we need to change the way we look at plastic and plastic products. The lesson asks students to consider the impact of managed, unmanaged and mismanaged waste.

Learning outcomes
  • Analyse the rapid growth in global plastic production
  • Describe the different paths that plastic can take after disposal
  • Consider how effective the UK is at recycling
  • Decide whether a linear economy is fit for purpose in the 21st century
  • Reflect on artistic works showing the plastic problem
Lesson steps
  1. How much plastic? (10 mins)
    Students analyse a graph of the increase in plastic production and decide how best to communicate these figures.
  2. Where does the plastic go? (10 mins)
    Students study a graphic of the life cycle of a plastic bottle with special reference to disposal. They are asked to describe and then rank the different paths that plastic can take after it has been thrown away.
  3. How good are we at recycling? (15 mins)
    Students play a short game to see if they know what common items can be recycled. They are then given a variety of facts to discuss and then decide how effective the UK is at recycling. This can be extended into a whole class discussion considering further actions that could be taken.
  4. Is recycling enough? (15 mins)
    Students will reflect on the fact that recycling may not be enough to tackle the plastic issue and that new ways of thinking may be needed as well. This lesson step will introduce students to the idea of the linear economy, recycling economy and circular economy.
  5. How can art help? (10 mins)
    As a plenary, students study the work of photographer Karl Taylor, and reflect on what art can bring to the understanding of an issue, that statistics and facts may not.
Additional information: Home learning

A home learning exercise can be set for students to investigate the global context of recycling