Sustainable Polymers: Taking Action to Solve the Challenge of Plastics

Nov 18, 2020

Sustainable Polymers: Taking Action to Solve the Challenge of Plastics

Nov 18, 2020

New Extension Peer Reviewed Curriculum

Through an innovative collaboration with the University of Minnesota Center for Sustainable Polymers, Minnesota, California, and New York 4-H Cooperative Extension educators partnered to develop and pilot youth-driven curricula

Focusing on the use and impacts of plastics and sustainability.

The overarching focus is introducing youth to the prevalence and impact of plastics in everyday life. Experiential activities help youth learn that plastics are versatile materials that come in different shapes, sizes, and exhibit different material properties. Youth learn that there are many advantages of using plastic as they can be lightweight alternatives that can save on fuel and energy. Youth also learn that there are many disadvantages to using plastics, including extracting costs and environmental impacts and a long post-life impact. Youth learn that while some plastics may be recycled and reprocessed, not all plastic makes its way to the recycling bin.

The curricula also introduce youth to the new ways scientists and engineers are working to create, use, and recycle plastics so we can use plastics for their many advantages and lessen their effects on our environment. Some plastics are now designed to biodegrade without polluting the environment and others are created using renewable resources to lessen the dependence on traditional, oil-based plastics.

Sustainable polymers must address the needs of consumers
without damaging our environment, health, or economy.

The curricula were designed to build foundational skills of science and engineering: observation, asking questions and defining problems, planning and carrying out investigations, and communicating. The curricula are intended for delivery in out-of-school time facilitated by an educator (trained volunteers or program staff). Three curricula are available:

  • Grades K-2: Focusing on introducing youth to science and engineering as they explore properties of materials and discover how objects are designed with material properties.
  • Grades 3-5: Focusing on concepts of: materials; plastics; reduce, use, recycle; and the work of scientists and engineers. Get the curriculum here
  • Grades 6-8: Focusing on the prevalence and impact of plastics in everyday life. Youth then become change agents as they discover and work on a plastic sustainability issue that affects their community.

Modules are available for download. Print copies are available from Shop 4-H (only K-2 is available now, grades 3-5 and 6-8 are coming soon).

For more information, please contact Steven M. Worker, PhD, 4-H Youth Development Advisor serving Marin, Sonoma, and Napa counties,

By Steven M. Worker
Author - 4-H Youth Development Advisor

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