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Chapter 1: Arrival

1

1_intro to plastics
Figure 1.1: Plastic Production around the World
(Poster done by Rafflesian Babu Sanjaay from 4B, represented Singapore at Ritz Super Global Forum (RSGF) 2019)


Plastics are everywhere, but to truly understand how harmful plastic is, and what we can do about it, we have to first understand the flow of plastic, also known as the supply chain. Where do our plastic bottles come from? Where do they go after we throw them away? Read on to find out!
 
How is plastic produced? 
You may have heard that plastic is “man-made”. What does that mean? It means that they don’t exist naturally like plants or animals. Plastics, for example, are originally from fossil fuels, natural gas and crude oil. They are then modified into plastics by the huge machines in factories, through a 3-step process. Let’s explain this using the toy of imagination - Building blocks!

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Figure 1.2: Different types of building blocks

  fig1.3

Figure 1.3: A chain of building blocks, joined together

   fig1.4

Figure 1.4: A brick ‘wall’ being broken into small, identical building blocks

Step 1: Cracking
Large building blocks need to be broken up into small pieces of different shapes and sizes in order to be used. Similarly, large carbon molecules are heated at temperatures of up to 750 degrees, breaking them up into different types of smaller molecules!

 

Step 2: Polymerisation
Building blocks of the same shape and size are joined together in a chain to form a long chain of blocks. Similarly, the smaller carbon molecules of the same type are chemically joined together to a chain of carbon molecules. This long chain is known as a polymer.

   

Step 3: Formation of pellets
Long brick chains are broken up into small, identical pieces of building blocks. Similarly, long polymer chains break down into identical units of carbon molecules. Small plastic pellets are formed, and they are used as the “lego pieces” to make all your plastic products, like plastic bags and plastic bottles!


How is plastic used?
Now that we have looked at how plastic is produced, let’s look at how plastic is used! When do you use plastic, and when do you see your parents use one?
Do your parents use a plastic bag at supermarkets, or do they bring their own recyclable bag? Do you bring your own water bottles to school, or do you buy plastic mineral water bottles from the drink stall?

It isn’t surprising if you have answered the first option for either of the above, because plastic has become such a part of our lives that we use it everywhere we go. 

fig1.6
Figure 1.6: Statistics for plastic consumption in Singapore
(Poster done by Rafflesian Ryan Chia from 4B and Wang Zicheng from 4E, represented Singapore at Ritz Super Global Forum (RSGF) 2019)
[For reference: PP plastics = Polypropylene plastics, used in making plastic cups and containers, PET bottles = Polyester bottles, such as the normal mineral water bottles we use]

 
In fact, research conducted by two Rafflesian Year 4s, Wang Zicheng and Ryan Chia, shows that every week, the average Singaporean uses 1 to 3 polypropylene (PP) plastic items such as plastic cups, containers and packaging.  In total, 473 million PP plastics are used in Singapore each year, and the mass of this amount of disposable plastics is equal to the land mass of 3 Sentosa Islands!

Where does plastic go after we use it?
After plastic is used, it is either incinerated, recycled or exported.

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Figure 1.8: Where does recyclable and non-recyclable plastic go? (By Brian Chua, RSGF 2019)

Incineration

Incineration means burning the plastic into ashes, which are sent to Pulau Semakau Landfill. Plastic waste is burnt at high temperatures to form ashes, which are then sent to Pulau Semakau Landfill. However, our landfill only has limited space, and it will be completely filled by 2035. To slow down the fill-up, we need to recycle our plastic.

Recycling

Recycling means taking used plastic and using them again for new purposes. As of 2018, only 4% of plastic disposed was recycled. This is because only certain types of plastic can be recycled. Some of us may find it difficult recognising these materials, so is there an easier way to find out? You may have seen these symbols on the packaging of plastic product:

fig1.9


Did you know?
These are known as Resin ID Codes, and they are used mainly in the recycling industry. The numbers represent the different types of plastics, while the letters below represent the name of the plastic type (Example: PP represents Polypropylene) The lower the number from 1-7, the more recyclable the plastic is. If you would like to do your part for the environment, here’s a pro tip: Buy products with lower Resin ID numbers! 


Exporting

Exporting means sending our plastic waste to other countries. Singapore is a green city, and our laws do not allow for large, unsightly waste dumps like the one above. Therefore, plastic is shipped to other Asian countries like Indonesia and Vietnam, where regulations for plastic waste are not as firm. This is known as the trans-border flow of waste. In 2016 alone, 42000 tonnes of plastic in Singapore was exported to China, Vietnam and Indonesia. That’s the reason why you may see trash piles like these in other countries, but not in Singapore. However, is sending our trash to other countries a responsible way of managing waste?


Plastic flows not just within our neighbourhoods, but within the country, as well as throughout the world. If plastic is such is a big part of our lives, and is so inseparable from the world, that brings the question,

What can we, as citizens, do to reduce plastic waste?

Read on to find out more!


Chapter 2: Knowing our Enemy...

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2.1

Why does a single plastic straw take 250 years to decompose?
Does it stay as a straw forever?
Plastic, as we all know, takes hundreds of years to decompose. Deep in the ocean, what we usually find would not be plastic bottles and bags, instead we would find tiny bits and pieces of plastic. These are called microplastics.

Figure 2.1: Photograph by Rafflesian Brandon Shan from Class 4B, RI Inter-House Photography Competition (IHPC) 2020 [Theme: Plastic - Pollution or Solution?]

   
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Some microplastics are known as primary microplastics, which are plastics that are already smaller than 5mm when they are manufactured, and some are known as secondary microplastics, which are broken down from large plastic objects like plastic bags into tiny pieces that are less than 5mm in size. Did you know? The dark blue spots in the toothpaste below are examples of primary microplastics! 

Figure 2.2 Artwork done by Rafflesian Y1 AEP Student Francis Loh

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic that are below 5mm in size. Every year, about 0.8 to 2.2 billion kilograms of microplastic are released into the oceans.

   
2.3

Microplastics in Cosmetics and Toiletries

Showering, brushing your teeth, gelling your hair, applying makeup and putting on sunscreen: What do these have in common? The products used in these activities may all contain microplastics! Microplastics are used in cosmetics (makeup) and toiletries (bathroom items) can exist in the form of microbeads, like in the toothpaste above, as chemicals, or as artificial silicone.

Figure 2.3: Primary Microplastics in Toothpastes
(Taken from video production by Y4 Chemistry Raffles Academy (RA))

 


Activity Time: Plastic-free Luggage

COVID-19 may have stopped many of us from travelling overseas with our families, but what’s
stopping you from preparing for your next trip?

The luggage below (Fig. 2.4) contains 6 common body care products, Brand A to Brand F, that Singaporeans would bring overseas. Your mission is to check the ingredients lists of these products, and find out which ones contain microplastics by comparing them to this list of microplastic materials here:

  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS)
  • Sodium Myreth Sulfate
  • PEG-8
  • PEG-14
  • Polyquaternium-7
  • Polyquaternium-10
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Carbomer
  • Acrylates Copolymer

If there is at least one ingredient that matches, the product has microplastics. E.g. Brand B has Sodium Laureth Sulfate, the list above has Sodium Laureth Sulfate, so Brand B has microplastics. There are 4 brands with microplastics and 2 without. Can you find them?

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Figure 2.4: What’s in the Luggage?
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Figure 2.5: Ingredients of Various Brands

 

[Answer: Items B,D,E and F have microplastics. The microplastics are those underlined in yellow! Did u guess them right?]

 

Microplastics in Clothing

As mentioned earlier, some of our clothing contains microplastics. Microplastics come from a group of fabrics known as synthetic fabric. Examples of synthetic fabrics include Nylon, Polyester and Acrylic. 

Here’s the bad news: Everytime you wash a synthetic fibre clothing in the washing machine, 2000 or more microfibres can be washed off from that one synthetic fibre clothing. For 6kg of synthetic clothes, that’s 700000 microplastic pieces! 

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Figure 2.6: Did you know? Nylon, used to make the nylon “puffer” jackets on the left, is a type of plastic! The nylon fibers on the right are a type of primary microplastic that can fall off from the jacket during washing

 

An Experiment on Microplastics

How can we find out the number of microplastics different items produce? The Y4 students from Raffles Academy (RA) Biology were tasked to research on the number of microplastics produced from tyres and shoes. Below are the findings from Travis Tan, one of the students from RA Biology.

Aim of Experiment

To find out whether shoes or tyres produce more microplastics after wear and tear

Plastic Content of Tyres and Shoes

Car tyres are made of 43% plastic, and they account for as much as 10 percent of overall microplastic waste in the world’s oceans. Shoes are made of around 40%-60% plastic.

How was the experiment conducted?

2.7

Figure 2.7: Diagram of Experiment
(Image from RA Biology students Yin Lye Ting, Tay Jo-Van and Ethan Leo)

1. Rub a strip of sandpaper on the car tyre and a shoe respectively for 20s, and allow the falling microplastic granules to collect on a plate.

2. Count the number of microplastics that have fallen on the plate after 20s.

 

3. Repeat the test on the car tyre and the shoe after 3 weeks of activity (driving the car, wearing the shoe etc.).

 

Experiment Findings and Conclusion
results

Tyres have more microplastics on them than shoes. This means that riding a car generally produces more microplastics, and contributes more to plastic pollution than walking with a pair of shoes!

Shouldn’t it be obvious then, that walking from one location to another will produce more microplastics than driving? Not necessarily! Time must be taken into account too, and a 5 minute drive to a destination, could be equivalent to a 30 min walk to the same destination. The longer you walk or drive, the more microplastics the shoe or tyre will produce, but the results above do not account for the time the shoe or tyre was used. Hence, we can generally conclude that tyres produce more microplastics than cars, but this is dependent on other factors as well.

Think about it! Why are there more microplastics on cars than tyres?

1. Cars are heavier than us, so there’s more friction from the tyres than the shoes when they rub against the ground, therefore they produce more microplastics.

2. Cars have a larger surface area, so there’s more wear and tear, meaning there will be more microplastics.

2.8
Figure 2.8: Eco-friendly Tip by Raffles EcoGryphons, a student-run initiative that improves RI’s conservation practices [Follow @ecogryphons on Instagram for more!]


Conclusion 

Microplastics come from so many places, and it’s not just the normal plastic bottles, or plastic bags, that are producing microplastics. But what harm can microplastics do? Move on to the next page on the “process of plastic pollution” to find out!

 

Time for a Quiz!!

Take this quiz to check how much you have learnt about plastics in general and their sources!!

Click on the quiz here: Sources of Microplastics
This quiz is open until Monday, 23 Nov 2020, 12noon.

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How are plastics harming the environment?
Click on Chapter 3 to find out!

 

Chapter 3: Our Enemy is Getting Stronger…

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Processes of Microplastic Pollution

You may have heard that plastic is "man-made". What does that mean? It means that they don't exist naturally like plants or animals. Plastics, for example, are originally from fossil fuels, natural gas and crude oil. They are then modified into plastics by the huge machines in factories, through a 3-step process. Let's explain this using the toy of imagination - building blocks!

3.1
Figure 3.1: Photo taken by Rafflesian Jeremy Neo from Class 4L

Large pieces of plastic can break down over time and release these small pieces (microplastics) into the environment. Weathering, such as from waves or sunlight, breaks down large pieces of plastics into smaller pieces. Shoes and tyres are also a large contributor of microplastics. With constant wear and tear of the soles of shoes and rubber tyres, small pieces of plastics may chip off and be released into the environment. When it rains, surface runoff may wash these microplastics into drains which will flow into rivers, seas and oceans. While minute in size, these tiny pieces of plastic pose great dangers to our environment and even to our health. Plastic bags and fishing gear are some examples of common garbage that break down into microplastics.


3a


Impacts of Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution is the most widespread problem affecting the marine environment. It also threatens ocean health, food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change. 

4.1
Figure 4.1: Infographic done by Ecogryphons


Impacts on marine health
Plastic bags resemble jellyfishes and turtles which rely on jellyfishes as a food source may very well mistake a floating plastic bag as a jellyfish. As such, it is not rare for turtles to be consuming plastic bags and pieces. This causes adverse effects to the turtle’s health. Mistaking and consuming of plastics not only applies to turtles but many other marine creatures also face this same issue. Marine wildlife like seabirds, whales, fishes also mistake the plastic pieces as food and may die from starvation due to consuming these plastics which obstruct their digestive tract. Large plastic waste in the ocean can also get entangled on animals which may choke the animal, potentially causing injury or death.

 

Impacts on food safety
Invisible plastic has been identified in tap water, beer, salt, showing the sheer extent of this plastic pollution. Recent studies into water contamination have found microplastics in 83% of tap water samples from major cities around the world and in 93% of samples from the world’s top 11 bottled water brands. When ingested, chemicals in these plastics can cause cancer and damage our bodies. Humans being at the top of the food chain will suffer the most from the effects of bioaccumulation and biomagnification. Every week, we ingest a credit card’s worth of plastic.

Impacts on tourism 

Plastic pieces may be washed up onto the shores of beaches, polluting the beaches and damaging the beauty of coastal tourist attractions, leading to decreased tourism-related incomes and major economic costs related to the cleaning and maintenance of the sites. No one will not want to visit a beach that is polluted by plastic waste.


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Figure 4.2: Artwork done by GAP Semester Anthropocene Adventurers Group 1

Time for a Quiz!!

Take this Kahoot quiz to check how much you have learnt from about the processes and impacts of plastic pollution!! Will your name be on the leaderboard?
There’s only one way to find out!! 

Click here for the Kahoot quiz!
This quiz is open until Monday, 23 Nov 2020, 12noon.

 

Chapter 4: Our Last Stand...

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Solutions to plastic pollution

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Figure 5.1 (left):  Photo by Rafflesian Martin Kumar from 1I

1.    Reduce usage of disposable plastics

The deadliest species of our enemy are disposable plastics! Disposable plastics are plastic items that can be discarded after being used once. 90% of the plastic items in our daily lives  are used once and then chucked away: plastic bags, mineral water bottles, one-time usage utensils and take out containers. These items that we use so frequently in our everyday lives contribute significantly to plastic pollution, and do you want this to continue happening? You can play a part in reducing plastic pollution by cutting down on your usage of disposable plastics, replacing them with reusable versions whenever possible! For example, when we go to the supermarket, instead of requesting for plastic bags to carry our groceries, we can remind our parents to utilise a reusable shopping bag instead. Studies have shown that when a person uses a reusable shopping bag rather than plastic bags over their lifetime, about 22,000 plastic bags can be saved! You and your family can make an impact today.

 

Raffles in Action - Bring Your Own Tumbler Initiative!
The “Bring Your Own Tumbler” Initiative was organised by the EcoGryphons in early February this year. It was a school-wide program where all Y1 to Y4 students received stamp cards, which they could get a stamp on if they brought their own tumblers when buying drinks from the drinks stall. With the “10 stamps for a free drink” reward, many students actively participated in that initiative, with some classes even purchasing their own “class cups”! This was a major move against using disposable plastic cups in our drink stalls, reducing our school’s plastic usage as a whole. It also raised students’ awareness on plastic pollution and related issues.

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Figure 5.2: Bring Your Own Tumbler Initiative, organised by RI student-run group RI EcoGryphons


2.
Recycle
There’s more that you can do to save our oceans from pollution! Recycling all sorts of recyclable plastics helps to do the job. However, currently only a mere 9 percent of all plastic packaging is being recycled! Instead of throwing all our items straight into the rubbish bin, we should first check whether or not they can be recycled, placing them in the recycling bin if they are recyclable. This small yet simple household effort could help to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans, so what’s stopping you from recycling regularly?

5.3
Figure 5.4 (right): Recycling Bins in RI (Photo taken by RI EcoGryphons)


Raffles in Action - Recycling bins in RI!
The RI Y1-4 generates about 2750kg of waste every month, yet only 300kg of this waste is recycled! (EcoGryphons, 2020) To increase recycling rates in our school, the school has increased the amount of recycling bin locations to make it more convenient for students to recycle. From recycling bins in the canteen to throw our plastic drink bottles, to those outside the printing shop to throw away plastic wrappers and packaging, these recycling bins are all part of our school’s effort to reduce our plastic wastage. 

3. Take part in or organise beach cleanups
In polluted oceans, marine animals such as sea turtles feed on the plastic, mistaking it for sea kelp and this one mistake disrupts their stomach’s natural processes. Think about all the poor animals dying at the hands of our enemy! However, you can do your part to save the animals! By taking part in beach cleanups together with many others, you can prevent plastic from all over the beach from ending up in the ocean. Singapore has several beach cleanup groups which easily can be found online, many of which organise frequent cleanups. Together with your friends and family, participating in a beach cleanup session would be extremely meaningful, and could even be enjoyable!

 

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Figure 5.5: Harm of plastics to marine animals, taken from Children’s Book designed by GAP Semester Anthropocene Adventurers Group 4

4. Be aware of our personal “plastic footprint”

Many personal care items consist of tiny plastic particles known as microbeads. These micro pieces of plastic go down our sinks and drains, and pollute the ocean with plastic further, and end up being eaten by marine life by the billion each day. You may be using more plastic than you are on a day to day basis without even knowing it yourself! Thus, before buying your own toothpaste, facial wash or personal grooming products, it would not harm us to check the product label to see if what is being purchased would contribute to the broader issue of plastic pollution. Being aware of our own “ Plastic Footprint” would allow us to reduce plastic pollution as an entity in the long run!

5.6

Chapter 5: Our Mission is Complete... or is it?


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Now, it is time for you to unleash your inner Plastic-Free Peter! How can you reduce, reuse or recycle plastics in your daily life? Take a picture of yourself advocating for a plastic-free environment. Some suggestions are a picture of your reusable bag with groceries after shopping, bringing food in your very own lunch box to school, picking up litter in your neighbourhood or creating a special recycling corner in your own home! Don’t let your creativity hold you back :)

Upload the picture onto Instagram, followed by a caption with a pledge to reduce plastic consumption. An example would be, “I pledge to use reusable containers when buying food from the hawker centre, instead of dabao-ing using disposable styrofoam boxes”. Use the hashtag ‘#LCC2020’ and we will collate your pictures and pledges to create a collage, that will be featured on the LCC page.

Gallery
To find out more about Plastics and Microplastics, click here!
 

Credits
Narrative Writers - 
Eugene Teo (4B)
Chua Qi Long (4C)

Content Writers - 
Rayden Lee (4M) [IC]
Zhang Ziyan (4E)
Jerome Gan (4J)
Lim Yuan Ren (4C)
Elliot Goh (4H)
Nathaniel Goh (4J)

Activity Designers -
Travis Tan (4C) [IC]
Praakhar Agrawal (Y5)

Website Designers - 
He Haotian (1I)
Yang Zhun Zhun (4C)

 

 

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