Plastic pollution is pervasive in the natural world, as microplastics (plastics <5 mm) have been identified in some of the most remote regions of the globe. Recent studies have also shown the presence of microplastics in human blood and lungs. Researchers from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) study the distribution of microplastics in environments from desert hot springs to the waters of Lake Tahoe and the Mekong River of Southeast Asia. Participants in this workshop will learn about plastic pollution in Nevada and methods used by scientists to identify plastic types that can be conducted in the classroom. Through a hands-on activity, participants will study the properties of common household plastic items through a series of density experiments. Participants will use the results of the experiment to consider the transport and fate of plastics in the environment.
Materials the participants will need for the workshop include:
1. Three clear drinking glasses/mason jars that can hold ~16 ounces (1 pint)
2. One pen and one sharpie marker
3. Masking tape (or some other tape that will stick to the glasses/jars)
4. At least three of the following liquids: water, vegetable oil, baby oil, dish soap, corn syrup, honey, syrup
5. At least three pieces of plastic that can be divided/cut into smaller pieces. Divide/cut each piece into three small pieces that are <1 inch in length (e.g., plastic fork, plastic water jug, soft drink bottle, shopping bag, etc.)