Question: What are ways we could model the absorption of chemicals by plastic waste?

mimiss is asking a question about plastic
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by mimiss | April 28, 2020 13:19 | #23499

I'm interested in ways to engage folks on the role of plastics in moving pollutants through an ecosystem through the absorption of chemical pollutants followed by the ingestion of that plastic by marine animals. I've read articles like this one and more academic chapters like this, and would be interested in a more tactile or visual way to communicate this, similar to the ways that watershed models can help us to understand erosion and water flow.

I'd like to think on:

  • What kinds of tools might we need for a demonstration like this?
  • Could this be communicated via plastic and a simple dye?
  • What are ways that you could detect the absorption rate of various plastics if not visibly?
  • What type of time scale would this need to happen on?

Thanks for your thoughts y'all!


I've had success using giant graph paper to do simple models of movement over time. For instance, modeling wildfire mitigation: run as a timed activity, kids color in tiles one at a time under a 30 second time limit, they can color as fast as they can but may only color in the tiles adjacent to the ones they just completed, they must color the entire tile in order to move to the adjacent one, and they have to account for things like fire breaks, rain, bodies of water, or fuel sources that they encounter along the way.

You could do something similar with giant graph paper and tiles, maybe, to do a very rough simulation of chemical transfer from plastics to organisms. If an object is moving through a field and has more tiles (i.e. if the plastic is saturated, so to speak) it sheds chemicals into its environment. If the balance goes the opposite way, and the environment is highly polluted, the plastic picks up any adjacent tiles and cleans the environment. I'm not sure if that's analogous at all to how that mechanism works.

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