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Tonasket Middle School students forming their bioplastic into a shape before allowing them to dry overnight.

The room was a buzz as students pulled their bioplastics from the cabinet where samples had been left drying over the weekend. Some sounds of disappointment could be heard across the room as well as some exclamations of “Check it out!” Eighteen middle school students at Tonasket School District had spent the week of February 7th learning about the principles of green chemistry, traditional plastic, and bioplastic.

First students conducted literature and video research around bioplastics exploring the question, “Are bioplastics a good alternative to traditional plastics?” At the end of the week, students were able to work in pairs to make their own bioplastics. Each team used a different combination of starch, additive, and catalyst so a comparison could be made across bioplastics. Students were asked to make a recommendation for the use of the bioplastic they made based on items they were familiar with that are currently made from plastic. Students made videos of themselves sharing their Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) to provide a scientific explanation whether they believed bioplastics make a good alternative to traditional plastics.

Tonasket Middle School student measuring the needed catalyst for making their bioplastic.

In a follow up survey, students shared that while they didn’t feel like the bioplastic they made turned out to be very usable, they did feel that bioplastics were important to develop and use as an alternative to traditional plastic, citing that it is safer for the environment and made from renewable materials. Students also shared that their favorite part of the week was being able to make their own bioplastics.