QUESTIONS for Tiny Plastic, Big Problem

Detergent bottles, crates, buoys, water bottles and other plastic garbage blanket a beach on the Hawaiian Island of Kaho'olawe. It’s a “hot spot” for accumulating ocean debris — including plastics.



Before reading

  1.  If litter on the street washes down the storm drain, where does it end up?
  2. Create a list of all the plastic you discard into the trash each week. What are some of the major sources of this trash?

During reading

  1. What happens to plastic as it breaks down?
  2. How much plastic is made each year?
  3. Explain some of the ways plastic enters the ocean.
  4. What is PET and where is it used?
  5. What surprised the Spanish team?
  6. Why are microbeads a concern?
  7. How do UV rays affect plastic?
  8. Describe some of the reasons why animals might eat plastic.
  9. Define “zooplankton.”

After reading

  1. Why does being hydrophobic make plastic more of a pollution problem? Support your answer using information in the story.

  2. Is plastic pollution likely to become more or less of a problem in the future? Explain your answer, pulling supporting information from the story. If time and resources allow, search the Internet for information on trends in plastic production and plastics wastes for the past five or 10 years and make a graph or chart to display this trend visually.


  1. Use a map to locate Midway Atoll, home to about 400,000 pairs of nesting Laysan albatrosses. What is the source of the plastic pollution that many of the birds mistakenly ingest?