What really happens to the plastic you throw away | TED-Ed

Meet The Creators

  • Educator: Emma Bryce
  • Director: Sharon Colman Graham
  • Composer: Peter Gosling
  • Narrator: Addison Anderson

Additional Resources for you to Explore

If you watched this video, you’re probably interested in how plastics are made, and what impact they have on the environment. For starters, you might want to watch this video that shows you how plastic bottles are produced. The American Chemistry Council also has some helpful guidelines on how the material is manufactured, what different types there are, and what role monomers and polymers play in the manufacturing process. (What are monomers and polymers anyway? You can read more about how they’re used in plastics, here.)

Moving on from the molecular stuff, plastic also has more visible impacts on the earth. First, learn about landfills, and what role plastic plays in the waste stream. Once plastics are in landfills, they could be contributing to leachate: you can learn more about this hazardous substance here.

Talking of hazards, plastic in the ocean is one of the greatest hazards of all. National Geographic explains how plastic pollution contributes to the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tells us what it really looks like (hint: it’s not exactly a giant trash heap in the sea). They also delve into the science of how big these patches really are. You can learn more about the five major gyres in the world where pollution accumulates, and here’s everything you need to know about microplastics: where they come from, why marine animals mistake them for food, and why they’re capable of harming birds and other sea life.

But there’s hope: plastics can be recycled, after all. Here, you can view the steps involved in recycling a plastic bottle, which turns it into material that can be reused to make a number of things—sometimes, even art! Look at the Natural Resources Defense Council for some useful solutions to the problem of plastic waste, and some tips for what you can do to slow the flow.

Finally, this TED speaker shares some ‘tough truths about plastic pollution’, and in this talk, you can meet the man who first discovered those ‘garbage patches’ in the sea. To end on a positive note, in this Ted Talk, the speaker tells us how we can recycle all kinds of plastics with the help of a special recycling plant.

Watch these other TED Ed lessons on Plastics and Pollution! Find out what can you do that can make a difference!
The seas of plastic and The nurdles’ quest for ocean domination!

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