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Plastic

How big a problem

is plastic pollution?

Can data help us visualize and understand plastic pollution?

Let’s start off by learning how data visualization can help us to understand really big problems. Data visualization uses pictures, numbers, and graphs to help show a complex problem in a simple way.

Plastic was invented in 1907. For a really long time, it seemed like a really convenient invention that made it easier to make and distribute a lot of different products around the world.

But now, scientists have discovered that the chemicals used to make plastic don’t break down, dissolve, or decompose like natural materials do. That means it can take up to 500 years for a plastic bag to break down into tiny pieces of microplastics.

So what happens to plastic when you’re finished with it?

Can you predict what this graph is showing?

Mini Challenge

See for yourself how data science and data visualization can help you understand plastic waste. What do you think the images below are trying to tell you?1

Let’s Reflect…

Now that you’ve had a look at the graph, can you answer these questions?

  1. What did you notice about the amount of plastic waste over time?
  2. Where did the majority of managed plastic waste end up?
  3. From the total amount of managed plastic waste, how much was recycled from year to year?
Data Dive

The Axes of a Chart

A bar chart2 uses either horizontal or vertical bars (columns) to show numerical data and compare it across different categories. One axis of the chart shows the specific categories being compared and the other axis represents numerical values.

  • One of the axis represents amounts (often the y axis)
  • The other axis represents categories (often the x axis)
Quick Facts!

Did you know?

Every year, 8 million tons of mismanaged plastic waste ends up in the ocean. That’s enough to fill nearly sixteen garbage bags for every metre of coast in the world! 3

You’ve completed the first step of the challenge!

You’ve learned how to use graphs to make sense of data. You can also see how much plastic waste we are throwing away - and how most of it isn’t being managed properly. You can now move on to the Where section to see where all of this plastic is coming from.

Take it further

Got some time and want to learn how to visualize data yourself?

These extension activities will teach you how to code a “graph reveal” animation in Scratch like the Pop Quiz above. There’s even some more data visualizations to reflect on.

Keep exploring - Scratch remix!

Visualize your own data - ‘Graph Reveal’ project

Learning Objectives

  • Visualize data.
  • Get familiar with Scratch and basic programming concepts.
  • Create an answer reveal activity using Scratch’s ghost effect and backdrops.

Recommended ages

Ages 7+

Recommended duration

15-20 min

Introduction

Use data visualization to create your own graph to help you understand big problems in the world, and how they change over time. For example our graph, which you saw before, shows how plastic has been recycled more over time.

You will code an animation which will allow you to jump from image to image with a fade-in/fade-out effect. This slowly “reveals” information that tells a story.

The idea is to demonstrate how a simple coding concept can be later applied to many different ideas and activities.

Keep exploring - Data stories!

Use the data in this image to reflect on these questions:

General

Can you estimate how many bottles are bought every hour, day, and week?

Community

Does your school or community have recycling programs?

Ethical

Can you find out how much plastic waste your town or city recycles? Do you think it is enough?

Resources

Want to dive deeper or just explore the sources?

We provide you with all the page sources and references along with additional related resources in one convenient location.

Due to the interactive nature of the online #kids2030 Challenge platform, it is not supported for mobile. To complete the #kids2030 Challenge, please use a desktop, laptop, or tablet in landscape mode.

Thanks!