Ending plastic pollution - Earth Day topics for your classroom


It is no understatement to say that plastic could threaten the very survival of the planet, and that is why it forms the basis of Earth Day 2018.

Designed to raise awareness of major topics that impact the planet, Earth Day Network leads Earth Day across the globe on April 22 each year and has done since 1970.

The network works with tens of thousands of partners worldwide to target environment campaigns and raise awareness, and more than one billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year.

The use of plastic is growing at such an extent that is influencing human life and behaviour, littering the landscape, clogging our waste systems and killing wildlife.

It is a topic that can be approached by teachers in a number of subjects, as it can be linked to a vast array of different human and natural processes.

From assessing the impact of plastic on the natural world in geography classes to design lessons focusing on more environmentally friendly materials, Earth Day provides an opportunity to tackle a key global issue in the classroom.

Why is plastic pollution such an issue?

In order to improve the environmental situation, a fundamental change in human behaviour and attitudes towards plastics is required.

The Earth Day Network is working to raise awareness and to broaden horizons for many people who are unaware of just what their use of plastic is doing to the world around them.

As part of the Earth Day strategy for 2018, they want to support the adoption of a new global framework to help regulate plastic pollution, while working closely with schools and other educational facilities.

They also want each and every person to take responsibility for their plastic use by looking into the ways that it can be reused, recycled or even replaced.

The impact of plastics on the natural world featured in David Attenborough’s recent series Blue Planet II, where he labelled the oceans a “toxic soup” of waste and plastic.In the show, it was revealed that researchers found traces of plastic in every ocean around the globe, while in the worst affected areas there are more than one million bits of plastic for each square mile.

Around 10% of the 300 million tonnes of plastic that is produced globally ends up in the oceans and that figure is rising – it is even suggested that plastic will outnumber fish in seas by 2050 if no action is taken.

As the impact on the natural world becomes greater, there is a need to act and inspire, and in the build-up to Earth Day 2018, that can take place in the classroom.

Approaching the topics in class

Initially, you may want to quiz students on their understanding of plastic and the planet, by asking what they know of its creation, its use and of its disposal.

For younger students, you may consider how they use plastic in their everyday lives and could ask them to keep a note of everything they use that includes plastic on any given day.

Older students could be asked to consider if there are alternatives to the regular items they take for granted, or if there are ways to reduce usage.

Class debates should be encouraged around the topic of plastic and teachers may wish to divide students into groups to discuss the positive and negative aspects of plastic use.

Alternatively, you could ask students to develop a guide on the various different types of plastic and their products or to find out what we use most.

Of course, the key topic for this year is to END plastic pollution so you may want to focus entirely on how reducing and ending pollution might be possible.

Depending on your classes, you may also wish to ask students if there are other factors that need to be taken into account – such as the role that politics or history have to play.

This opens up another range of possibilities for class discussion and group work, as you could ask students to look at the different environmental approaches that are taken by countries across the world.

It’s time to consider the environmental, climate and health consequences of using plastics more than ever before, and this Earth Day represents the ideal opportunity to get started.

A wide range of resources are available at earthday.org for use as part of Climate Education Week which runs in the build-up to Earth Day itself. You can download lesson plans and other educational activities that will allow you to raise the issue of plastic pollution with your classes.