A project researching the process a plastic bottle takes, physically and chemically, in order to be turned into a piece of clothing.
A display that shows the difference in density of PETE and HDPE in water.
A sieve that shows how strings are made from a clump of hot plastic.
Posters explaining the process of plastic bottles to clothing.
Polyester fluff that shows how the plastic looks after being shredded for a second time.
Chemistry of Single-Use Materials Project Reflection
I learned that plastic is made up of an infinite chain and that is why it can be recycled from its plastic bottle form and be turned into a shirt or bag. The chains of plastic are joined together when the plastic is melted to create a long string, meaning that the end of the chain will never be unable to join with another end of a chain. Plastic is strong, but lightweight and this is because there doesn’t need to be a large thick chain of plastic in order for the plastic to be strong which also means that it won’t break or shatter when it's dropped.
In the process of separating PETE from other materials, physical and chemical properties of these materials have to be utilized in order to get this plastic by itself. In order to separate PETE from HDPE, the plastic gets shredded and then submerged in water where the HDPE floats because of its lower density than water and the PETE sinks to then be collected and continued in the process. Plastic does not corrode, and this property is used to separate the plastic from the labels and glue by using corrosive chemicals that the plastic does not react with. Plastic is resistant to a lot of things, and this is why it can be reused because it can be separated from other materials. A lot of plastic materials are only used one time, but because of the chemical composition of plastic, they have the possibility to be reused many times over, because of this composition, plastic is recyclable and able to be upcycled as well.
Ultimately, our role as consumers is not the leading cause for climate change, that is accomplished by 100 companies contributing 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. This means that as individuals, we have less than 30% control about what happens to our world unless we’re going after big change. That is not to say that doing small things like recycling and reusing aren’t important, because while these acts won’t change things on a global scale, they can change things on a local scale. The Interact club is working towards getting a plastic bag ban in grocery stores which will decrease the amount of plastic bags flying around in our community significantly. This is a big change, but it is still important to contribute in small ways like picking up litter, using a reusable water bottle, and recycling as much as you can because we still have to save that 30%.
During this project, I learned how to display information in a way I haven’t before. Specifically when it came to making the sieve, I wasn’t focusing on if it was perfect or it was completely accurate, but just if it helped people understand what was happening. The best moment of the entire exhibition was when I was showing a kid through my project, and he was pretty smart, but once I explained a little bit about the sieve, he immediately said, “oh, I get it!” and I realized that this project wasn’t just about chemistry or the good of the world, but it was also about explaining things so that they were understandable to everyone. Through this, I realized the importance of physical displays and the true joy that comes from knowing your work can be understood.
Something I realized during this project was just how many Durango Joes cups I used. Along with the cost, I was going through one or two plastic cups a week. During the past week I have been getting cold brew coffee from the grocery store and mixing it myself in a glass bottle that used to have tea in it. I think, not only saving money, but knowing that I can prevent a few plastic bottles from being in a landfill helps me contribute in my own way outside of climate protests. I am not perfect, but now when I go to Durango Joes, I will put time into rinsing out the cup and recycling it because I don’t know what new product it could become after being recycled.
The research we presented went beyond just a chemical explanation and went into the physical process of upcycling plastic. In terms of answering the essential question, our project explained how a plastic bottle can be upcycled after being recycled because it has the ability to be separated from the materials that cannot be upcycled. In our actual project and in our explanations at the exhibition, we said that the plastic bottle can be recycled because it can be turned back into its original form and be reworked as is seen in the “Combination and Separation” poster on our slide show. We also covered in our project explanation how even after the clothing has been made from plastic, there are programs that some companies have created to take back plastic clothing and remake it again. All of the processes it takes to turn a plastic bottle into something else is a process making sure that less plastic bottles end up in landfills and our oceans. In our final slide, we explained the drawbacks of plastic clothing, but also reiterated how it is a solution to a problem we previously didn’t have.
In our conversations at the exhibition specifically, we talked about how creating clothes out of plastic bottles would be unnecessary if people stopped using single-use plastic bottles. Despite this, we spread the message that plastic bottles will always have more possibility for reuse when they are recycled than when they are just thrown in the trash. We didn’t cover in our actual project the answers to the second essential question because we felt like it was covered in the project right next to us by Sage and Lucy. We tried to explain the process that the plastic bottles take to also help people understand how much work and energy could be prevented if they used a reusable water bottle instead. Our project showed a very high level of refinement in terms of our posters and presentation, but our physical displays could have been a little more professional even though they got the message across. The cohesiveness of our project doesn’t really apply because for the most part we were working outside of the alignment, but we did try to present new information that wouldn’t already be covered by the other projects doing upcycling and plastic so while we are related to the other projects, we showed a new perspective.