Assorted plastic debris objects arranged by color.

Photo Credit: Algalita

Brainstorm and then discuss the consequences and benefits of plastic for human societies.


Grades 4 and up

Time Needed 30 minutes

Format Suitable for group or individual learning

Editable Handouts
– none

– Post-its or whiteboards and markers

Purpose and Context

Plastics have become an important part of our daily lives. Early on, when synthetic polymers were first being invented in the first half of the 1900s, people considered them to be miracle materials. This is because they could be molded into and dyed any shape and color but they also had properties that natural materials like wood, metal, and glass didn’t have. But over the years, the flaws of plastic were gradually uncovered. Now, we wonder how people thought it could ever be a good idea to make a polymer that nature can’t “digest.”

As we come up with solutions to the plastic problem, we will need to develop alternative materials, processes and systems that keep human and planetary health in mind. We’ll also need to make sure that the solutions are accessible and affordable for everyone. And on top of that, we’ll need to think ahead about the problems our solutions might create in the future.



Gather materials you’ll need: Post-its OR whiteboards and markers.

In Class

  1. Screen this introductory video about plastic pollution. Read the content shown below the video together as a class.
  2. Group students into groups of 3-4 students.
  3. Using questions like the ones below, ask students to talk about and then write down their thoughts about the benefits and consequences of plastics for human communities.
    • Find a plastic object in the classroom. How does it serve a purpose for human use?
    • What have you learned from sources like the news media, and social media, or friends and family about plastics? Is the source trust-worthy?
    • What did you learn in the video about the uses and benefits of plastics? What did you learn about the negative impacts?
    • What things do we make out of plastic? How are they useful?
    • Have you experienced plastics pollution in the environment? How might it be a problem for humans?
  4. Discuss as a class, allowing each group to contribute. If you’re using post-its, have students work together to group their responses and compare and contrast them.
  5. Repeat this activity, or keep adding to it after doing additional activities or lessons on plastic pollution.

Discussion Ideas

  • Do the negative aspects of plastic outweigh the positives?

Tips and Suggestions

  • Guide students to think about not only the personal benefits and consequences they experience in their own lives but to think about society at large as they brainstorm.

Associated Standards


  • MS-PS 1-3 Gather and make sense of info to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society.


Did you use this lesson?

Help us track our reach


Related Resources

Contents of the Plastic Ocean Teaching Kit (Previously called the Debris Science Investigation Kit)

Toolkit: A Plastic Ocean Teaching Kit

Investigate the impacts of microplastics on our oceans with 3 rotating activities.

Grades 5 and up
50 minutes

Close up of an albatross, sea bird, sitting on the ocean surface.

Lesson: Sources and Sinks

How does plastic get into and impact ecosystems?

Grades 4 and up
30 to 60 minutes

A classroom desk.

Lesson: Synthetic or Natural?

Contemplate the difference between synthetic and natural materials that make up common items in the classroom.

Grades 5 and up
30 to 60 minutes

Help your students take action with these Wayfinder Society Actions!

Project image card - click to select this 3 hour project. Image shows a man and grandmother bake together.

Ask Your Elders

Learn about how your elders maximized their resources before the deluge of “disposables”.

Explore more

Plastic Pollution Basics

A quick crash course on plastic pollution and what we can do about it!

Learn more

The Story of Plastic (Animated Short)

A brief introduction to the issue of plastic pollution, produced by Story of Stuff.

Breathe This Air: A #PlasticJustice Film by Peak Plastic Foundation

Learn about a powerful tactic for creating a more just world: listening to and amplifying the stories and solutions shared by people being harmed by plastic production and disposal.

Learn more and take action!

Help us improve our free resources.

By making our resources freely available, we've given up some of our ability to track how our resources are being used. Please help us measure our impact, which we'll use to inform our generous donors, by signing up for our newsletter and completing our end-of-the-school-year survey.

We'll also keep you up to date with new free events, lessons, toolkits, videos, plus community blogs and funding opportunities. 

Thank you!

Success! Thank you for joining our Wayfinder Society community.