The global journey of plastic waste

Lesson overview

The UK exports over half a million tonnes of recovered plastic packaging each year. Historically, much of this was to China, but with a ban on waste imports other solutions and destinations have been sought. Students start by mapping the destinations of plastic waste exports before and after China’s ban, analysing the changes. Then students consider the UK’s options using a range of information, before ranking these and creating a proposal for government action.

Learning outcomes
  • Map the global destinations of UK recycling over time
  • Describe how these destinations have changed over time
  • Review information on the current state of UK plastic waste management
  • Evaluate options for the future of UK plastic waste management
Lesson steps
  1. Where does all the plastic go? (15 mins)
    Over half a million tonnes of recovered plastic packaging is exported each year. Bans on imports by different countries are affecting the destination of these exports. Students create two chloropleth maps to show how destinations have changed in recent years.
  2. How and why has this changed over time? (10 mins)
    Using the data and maps from the previous lesson step, students write a short paragraph to describe how the destinations for recovered plastic packaging exports has changed over time. A challenge question asks students to develop possible reasons why this might be the case.
  3. What are the options for future waste management? (15 mins)
    Plastic waste exports could be seen as simply passing the problem on. Working in groups, students are presented with a range of information on possible solutions and problems in reducing plastic waste in the UK. Students are asked short comprehension questions to aid understanding of this material.
  4. Ranking recycling (15 mins)
    Student groups will be given a selection of proposals being considered by government and by industry for how to reduce the amount of plastic waste. Students will need to rank these, in order of preference, using the information supplied in the previous lesson step.
  5. What should government do? (5 mins)
    As a plenary, students write a paragraph stating their preferred option and giving reasons. These can be sent to the relevant political representative.
Additional information: Home learning

Students study a newspaper article from Indonesia about the need for western countries to take more responsibility for the impact of imported plastic waste.