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Gail S Hennessey's picture
Gail Skroback Hennessey taught for over 33 years, teaching sixth grade in all but two years. She earned a BA in early secondary education with a concentration in social studies and an MST in social...
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July is Plastic Free Month. What Can YOU do to Use Less Plastic?

Out in the Pacific Ocean, between California and Hawaii, is a vast floating debris field known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is estimated that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is about two times the size of the state of Texas! Sadly, the area is growing each year. It the world’s largest debris field(mainly plastics) in the world. Unfortunately, it is not the ONLY such waste field in our oceans as the Atlantic and Indian Oceans have such patches, too.

This week, 40 TONS, yes, 40 TONS of plastic were removed from the site by an environmental groups called Ocean Voyages Institute. To better understand the amount, think almost 7 elephants! In addition to plastic bottles, their haul included  plastic detergent containers, plastic children’s toys, plastic furniture and fishing gear(made from nylon and polypropylene-plastics)

The 40 tons of waste will be turned into energy at a power plant on Hawaii with 1.5 tons going to the art department at the University of Hawaii and individual artists who plan to turn the plastic waste into art sculptures.

Despite the massive amount of waste collected, it really doesn’t add up to much when you consider we are dumping between 1-2.4 million tons of plastic debris into the oceans EVERY year.

July has been designated as PlasticFree July.

What can YOU do?

1. Say NO to a plastic straw. When you order a beverage in the store, say no straw please!(or bring your own metal, bamboo, paper, etc. alternative)

2. Bring your own reusable bags to a store and say no to plastic bags.

3. Use reusable plastic water containers and not throw away plastic bottles.

4. What can you think of to lessen YOUR impact on plastic?

You are sitting in a restaurant and a server brings over a glass of water and drops a plastic straw next to the glass. Any idea how many plastic straws are thrown away in the USA every day? It is estimated the number is 500 million(yes, a day). Think 125 school buses filled with straws! Many of these straws find their way into our oceans. In 2015,  a video showed a sea turtle with a plastic straw lodged into its nostril! Different groups are saying something should be done about these narrow pieces of plastic. Straws are one of the most common pieces of plastic found along our beaches. Think enough plastic straws to wrap around the Earth 2 1/2 times…that’s how many straws are used just in the USA every year!

The straw, first invented in 1888, was thought to be hygienic. It was felt that keeping your mouth off of the rim of a glass, someone else might take a sip, might keep you from getting sick. 

Interestingly, the straw actually has a long history. In a tomb of an ancient Sumerian(present day Iraq), dating back 3000 BCE, a very fancy straw was found. It was a gold tube inlaid with the precious blue stone lapis lazuli. Modern straws were made of paper, with plastic straws replacing paper, in the 1970s. 

McDonalds Corp has changed to paper straws and only are given out if a customer asks for a straw.  Alternatives to paper include switching to bamboo straws. Miami, Seattle, Davis, San Louis Obispo, and Malibu are cities moving away from plastic straws being used in their cities. Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom has banned straws as has Smithsonian Institution museums. Some national parks including the Grand Canyon have switched back to paper straws in dispensers. Vancouver became the first major Canadian city to impose a plastic straw ban in restaurants. Scotland plans to be rid of plastic straws. Taiwan is working on a ban, too.

Some people are concerned about banning plastic straws. Hot liquids can't be used with a paper straw. Some people with disabilities need the help that a straw provides.

Your Turn:

  1. Do you use a straw?
  2. What do you think about the banning of plastic straws?
  3. Next time, you are in a restaurant, will you use a plastic straw if given?

Resources of Interest:

Learn about the history of Earth Day and, our Planet EARTH, with this informative web quest. There are 15 web questions as well as comprehension questions and a Did You Know? fun fact section.

The teacher page includes extension activities, the key, and additional links:

Exploring the Ocean Blue: A Web quest, will introduce students to our oceans. There are nine informative web questions. Fun Facts, comprehension questions, extension activities and links are also provided as is the key. Can be used as part of a unit on oceans, for Earth Day, World Ocean Day or as an activity for a Friday, before a vacation break or as an end of the year activity. This can be a one day class resource or used for a couple of days depending on whether the activities(creative writing/art work/online simulation games, etc.) are used with the students:

Introduce your students to Jacques Cousteau with this informative Reader's Theater Script. Oceanographer, photographer, scientist, inventor, writer and filmmaker, Cousteau spent his life studying the oceans and the marine life that lived in the oceans. His books and films on his studies sparked much interest in our oceans and created an awareness about the need for marine conservation. 

A Biologist and marine zoologist, Rachel Carsons books shared her love of nature, especially the ocean and its inhabitants. Her book, Silent Spring, sparked concern in how chemical pesticides were harming our environment. Carson helped to start the environmental movement in our country, which led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This Reader's Theater Script could be used as a STEM biography any time of year or especially during the time of Earth Day.

Purple Turtle EBOOK: The stories involve Purple Turtle and his friends including Zing,the stuttering rabbit, Biggy Bear, Melody the bird, Squirty the squirrel and others. In each story, a topic is addressed such as friendship, honesty, conservation, getting over fears, etc. In this story, "Purple Learns to Use Less", the friends learn that each of us can help the planet in saving water.Grades 1-3, Aadarsh Publishing.

Illustration from

Photograph from