SISL > 2012 Sustainability in Math Workshop > Activities > Plastic Waste Production

Plastic Waste Production

This page is authored by Karen Bliss, Quinnipiac University, based on the question used in the 2013 Moody's Mega Math Challenge,
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In this exercise, students will use data to predict the amount of plastic waste in the next ten years.

Learning Goals

Help students understand how big the problem is (e.g., how much plastic is going in to landfills) and what potential solutions are.

Engage students in civil discourse/communications that lead to more effective decisions.

Encourage self-reflection and personal development of sustainability habits.

Context for Use

Could be a lab exercise. The level could be high school or early college level. Appropriate as a modeling exercise or an exercise about regression.

Description and Teaching Materials

The question we'd like to answer is:

How much plastic goes into landfills in the U.S.? Predict this amount for the next ten years.

There is lots of data available (from the EPA) on municipal waste and how much of it is plastic. The amount of plastic being thrown away has increased over time because plastic is becoming pervasive in society.

Students can use the data from the website to develop a model (linear? logistic?) and then use the model to make predictions.

Student handout for plastic waste (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 101kB Mar16 13) Instructor notes for plastic waste (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 132kB Mar16 13) Data for plastic waste (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 64kB Mar16 13)

References and Resources

This site provides suggestions for reducing, reusing, and recycling waste: