This lesson explores how windblown plastics impact the marine environment.

Learning objective

Students learn about the properties of plastics, and how plastic is easily blown around in the environment – therefore becoming a harmful pollutant. They will write a scientific report about their observations.

Curriculum links

Physical Sciences

Questioning and predicting
Planning and conducting

Cross-curriculum priority: Sustainability

Single-use plastic, marine life, litter

This lesson explores how windblown single-use plastics end up in our waterways and impact the marine environment.

Single-use plastic includes all plastic packaging that is intended only to be used once, then discarded. Reducing waste by avoiding single-use plastic fits into the avoidance section of the waste hierarchy. Single-use plastics are often difficult to recycle, so these can end up in landfill where they may never break down.

Changing our habits to avoid using single-use plastics is a great way to start reducing the amount of plastic entering our environment. Many people ‘choose to refuse’ single-use plastics such as bottled water, drinking straws and plastic shopping bags. Options such as reusable water bottles, metal or paper straws, and reusable bags are becoming more common.

In 2017, Keep Australia Beautiful and the Tangaroa Blue Australian Marine Debris Initiative reported that more than 75 per centof the rubbish collected on Western Australian beaches was plastic.

Internet access to watch YouTube video Two Minutes on Marine Life

Variety of items: a plastic bottle, plastic bag, disposable coffee cup, straw, cardboard


Long table

Shallow container full of water

Plastic resin pellets (or photograph of)

  1. Brainstorm what kind of items are made from plastic. Discuss:
    • How do they end up in the environment? (littering, windblown from landfill).
  2. Watch the video Two Minutes on Marine Litter with Jim Toomey
  3. Discuss which properties of plastic make it a popular choice for many items but also harmful to the environment (they are lightweight, difficult to break and so on).
  4. Discuss
    1. How does plastic affect the environment?
    2. Why is it a pollutant?
    3. How can we prove that plastic items are easily blown around?
  5. Use various types of plastics to find out how the materials react to wind. Write a prediction, plan the experiment and create a table to show:
    1. the item and material it is made from
    2. how it is blown around.
  6. To conduct the experiment:
    1. Place a fan at one end of a table.
    2. Put the objects in front one by one. What happens?
    3. Students record observations in the table they have drawn.
  7. Discuss which items are blown around. Is there a tendency for items of the same material to get blown around?
  8. Discuss the cause and effect relationship between plastic items that are disposed of or littered on land and how they end up in our oceans and waterways.
  9. Students write a report using simple explanations and arguments to communicate their ideas about how plastics get to the ocean and in such a large quantities (having a devastating impact on marine life).

Participate in a beach clean-up and send results to Tangaroa Blue for recording in its marine debris initiative.