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  • Gloria Hoffner

Earth Day 2020

Earth Day Celebrates 50th Anniversary

April 22, 1970 was the first Earth Day, a day to honor and to offer ways to protect our fragile planet!

Sir Fred Hoyle, British mathematician and astronomer, explained how precious and unique is our Earth, “The building blocks of proteins can therefore be produced by natural means. But this is far from proving that life could have evolved in this way. No one has shown that the correct arrangements of amino acids, like the orderings in enzymes, can be produced by this method. .... A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing 747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there? So small as to be negligible, even if a tornado were to blow through enough junkyards to fill the whole Universe."

Here are some educational activities for your residents to celebrate and learn how to protect our planet! I posted lots more on my free blog – Scienceforseniors.net – and on my Science for Seniors Facebook page every week.

Choking the Planet with Plastic

The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year. As a country we throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year. It takes each bottle 500 to 1,000 years for plastic to degrade.

Plastic in the ocean breaks down into such small segments that pieces of plastic from a one liter bottle could end up on every mile of beach throughout the world, according to the website Ecowatch. In addition, approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide each year. That equals more than one million bags used every minute.

Plastic is the term for a material that can be molded into different shapes. All plastic is made from molecules which can be repeated again and again in a chain. These molecules used as chains are called polymers. A single repeat in a pattern of molecules in a polymer is a monomer.

The milk used to make your pumpkin pie can be used to make ecologically friendly plastic. This was first demonstrated at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900. The items made were jewelry, buttons and buckles. These early items tended to break splinter and break easily. Milk plastic was also used to make fountain pens, hand held mirrors and comb and brush sets in the 1930s and 1940s.

Today most of our everyday plastic products are made from petroleum which requires drilling for oil and creates a finished product that can last over 230 years in a landfill. The United States uses over 2 million gallons of oil per day for the manufacture of plastic. Plastics made from natural products, such as milk, have the advantages of being a renewable resource. In addition, the manufacturing process releases fewer toxins and greenhouse gases than oil based plastic. Disposable natural plastics can break down in a few months and release no toxic fumes when burned.

In 2011 oil based plastics constituted over 12% of municipal solid waste, while in the 1960s, these plastics constituted less than 1% of municipal solid waste, according to the E.P.A. In 2012 the E.P.A. reported plastic bags and food containers are the majority of 165 million tons of plastic pollution in the world's oceans.

Experiment: How Can You Make Plastic from Milk?

Materials: One cup of milk, four teaspoons of white vinegar, microwave oven, ceramic bowl, spoon, strainer, and wax paper.

Process: Pour the milk into the bowl and place in the microwave oven. Heat for 2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the oven, place on a table, and add four teaspoons of vinegar. Stir. As you do you will see the formation of white curds in the liquid. Strain the curds from the liquid and place the curds on the wax paper. After it cools, mold the plastic into a shape. You can do this with your hands or use a cookie cutter. Let this dry for 24 hours.

Result: You will have a shape made of milk plastic. Explanation: Milk is made of water, fats, protein, minerals and carbohydrates. When you heat the milk above 212 degrees Fahrenheit, boiling point, the fat within the milk will glob together. The two main milk proteins are: casein and whey. Casein contains coagulates when added with vinegar. The whey does not coagulate. Thus the two materials separate and can be strained.

A casein molecule is a monomer. The polymer made of casein monomers can be scooped and molded and thus it is called a plastic. The plastic you make in this experiment will not be as strong as the plastic made from milk and sold commercially. Commercial milk plastic is washed in formaldehyde. This chemical will help harden the plastic but is too dangerous to be used at home. Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong smelling gas that can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea, and difficulty in breathing for some people exposed to levels above 0.1 parts per million. Exposure can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.

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