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  • This interactive groups Hub resources into key science and teaching concepts.

    This interactive diagram provides a selection of pathways that allow for differing approaches and starting points using resources about plastics – their usefulness, the problems they cause and some ways in which science and technology are helping to reduce the impact. The aim is to assist educators with their planning of lessons and units of work by providing options that cover multiple science concepts. The article Thinking about plastic – planning pathways provides links to the New Zealand Curriculum.

    Background image © belchonock, 123RF Ltd

    Download a PDF file of the transcript here.


    A useful material

    Plastic truly is an amazing material. Its strong, lightweight, weather-resistant qualities are ideal for so many applications. Take a moment to glance around you. Chances are there are many items within your reach that have a lightweight, durable plastic component!

    Find out about the history of plastic and some of its very helpful uses.

    Related articles

    Image: Belchonock, licensed through 123RF Ltd

    Harmful impacts

    Our overuse of plastic products and careless disposal have created many harmful impacts on the environment. As materials scientist Kim Pickering points out: “Let’s face it: it is people who are doing the littering, not the plastics themselves.”

    Plastic can also have negative impacts on human health, for example, if toxins leach from plastic packaging into our food.

    These resources explain some of the harmful impacts plastics have on the environment and potentially on human health.

    Related articles

    Related images

    Image: Richard Whitcombe, 123RF Ltd

    Recycle, reuse and refuse

    Many plastic items are so cheap to produce that we are very quick to dispose of them. In New Zealand and other countries, work is under way to limit single-use items like shopping bags, straws and excess packaging.

    Other items – like PET bottles and containers – are readily recyclable. In the past, all of our recycling was crushed, baled and sent overseas for processing. However, New Zealand industries are closing the recycling loop by opening washing and recycling plants.

    The following resources explore waste issues and recycling.




    Image: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Alternatives to plastic

    One way to address the growing amount of plastic in our environment is to produce alternative replacements. These alternatives are often bio-derived plastics – plastic with a biological component. It’s also a win-win situation when the products are created from materials that would ordinarily be considered waste products.

    As bio-derived plastics become more commonly available, it’s important to understand their properties so we are aware of how to dispose of them.

    Learn more about bioplastics and examples of bioplastic products.




    Image: University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Citizen science and taking action

    Citizen scientists are volunteers who contribute to scientific projects, usually by collecting or analysing data. Citizen science projects can make science education more relevant and engaging, and they help to develop students’ science capabilities.

    The following resources provide tips for planning and getting involved.

    The following citizen science projects help students to identify and track trends involving litter and plastic pollution.

    Image: Dianne Christenson, Koraunui School

    Images to start a discussion

    Images can be a powerful means to begin discussions and to encourage students to consider multiple perspectives.

    The Futures thinking toolkit provides a structured framework for developing students’ thinking skills about existing conditions and possible/preferable futures. It provides a useful next step after students have discussed/considered the images.

    The Ocean Plastic Simulator online tool shows where plastic is likely to end up when it is dropped in the ocean. Use it to track the movement of virtual plastic pollution.


    • Where is the plastic – how is it being used?
    • Does the image show plastic in a positive, neutral or negative manner?
    • Is the plastic causing a problem? Why or why not?
    • Do the title and the caption included with the image have an effect on your opinion about the plastic?
    • What should happen to the plastic in the image – can we reuse or recycle it or should we refuse it?
    • What actions might you take to prevent the plastic item from becoming harmful to the environment?


    Image: Anna Nahabed, 123RF Ltd

    Pedagogy and the nature of science

    Plastic – its benefits and drawbacks – is a rich and relevant context for exploring the nature of science (NoS).

    Each of the following articles has a stand-alone NoS statement. Consider and discuss the statement within the context of each article.

    These professional development resources provide pedagogical advice and planning tips.

    Image: Public domain

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wananga o Waikato Published 18 September 2019, Updated 9 June 2022 Size: 490 KB Referencing Hub media
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