Questions for ‘Everyday plastics can pollute, leaching thousands of chemicals’

dozens of plastic bottles and other bits of plastic trash pollute a waterway

These plastic containers leached chemicals — both into the water they once held and into the harbor where this trash has ended up. That’s the conclusion of a pair of new studies.

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To accompany Everyday plastics can pollute, leaching thousands of chemicals’  


Before Reading:

  1. Think over your last 12 hours. What was the last item you remember throwing away? What was it made of? Where will that item most likely be next week? What condition do you think it will be in next year?
  2. List five substances that make up most of the trash in your household. For example, one substance could be paper. Which type of trash do you think composes the majority? Rank these substances from 1-5, with 5 being the biggest amount. What impact might each of these categories have if they got released into the environment? If one of these ended up in oceans, which would cause you the greatest concern? 

During Reading:

  1. Research has long shown that plastics break into smaller and smaller pieces and that that’s a problem. But two new studies reveal a new concern. What is that new concern? State one way this new concern affects people directly.
  2. What are plastic additives and in what way may they be even more of a problem than the plastics themselves? Why are these chemicals able to leave plastics so easily?
  3. What does an ecotoxicologist study? What big question are Lisa Zimmerman and Martin Wagner trying to answer?
  4. How many types of plastic did Wagner and Zimmerman study? How many types of plastic released some amount of toxic chemical? 
  5. Why did Zimmerman and Wagner, and later in another study Anna Walsh, soak their plastic samples in water? What type of environment was the water meant to stand in for? 
  6. What do Zimmerman, Wagner and Walsh mean when they use the word “leaching”? 
  7. What big question is Walsh trying to answer about plastic breakdown? Was she right to be concerned? Use the results of her study to support your answer.
  8. What is Susanne Kühn’s opinion of these new studies? What government-related concern did she add?

After Reading:

  1. Other than what’s mentioned in the study, what other ways might these chemicals contact people or the human environment? How might these chemicals affect non-human life? List three plants or animals that would cause you the most concern. Use specific examples of what would concern you. Explain your concern for each one using results from these new studies.
  2. According to these studies, what types of things about a particular place could make this problem worse? Based on your last answers, describe the characteristics of places where you would expect to see the biggest problems in terms of plastic pollution. List two specific places in the world where you think plastic pollution may pose an extra-big problem.