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Plastic… Fantastic?

Full Day
Book Program
Year Levels


The first synthetic plastic to be created was rooted in sustainability. In the 1860s too much ivory was being used to make billiard balls, so a type of plastic called celluloid was developed to make them with instead. Over the next century dozens of synthetic plastics were created, in many different strengths and shapes. It was thought that using these synthetic materials instead of natural resources would be beneficial to the environment.

So why then is plastic pollution one of the largest environmental catastrophes that we face today? What is it about plastic structure that allowed microplastics to become so pervasive in our environment? Whilst plastics have their place in society, we have become too reliant on single use plastics that end up in landfill or the oceans. Recycling alone will not solve this problem – but green chemistry will.

Green chemistry – now embedded throughout the VCE Chemistry Study Design – aims to manufacture safer materials, reduce the production of waste, improve energy conservation, and move us towards a circular economy. One of the biggest questions in green chemistry today is how to produce easy to recycle plastics using renewable resources.

Prior Knowledge

Some basic idea of atoms and the particulate nature of matter.

Key Learning Question

What are the properties of plastic and how can green chemistry principles be used to find sustainable solutions?

Learning Intentions

In this program students will:

  • Link the structure of plastics to their properties and functions
  • Discover the origins of microplastics and their effect on the environment
  • Learn some techniques for identifying different types of plastic
  • Distinguish between plastic made from fossil fuels and plastic made from renewable feedstocks
  • Understand the benefits to the environment of using compostable plastics
  • Discover the principles of green chemistry and how these principles will help us move to a circular economy


Students will:

  • Conduct simple experiments to test the properties of different types of plastic
  • Examine microplastics from a range of samples
  • Use cutting edge laboratory equipment to identify plastics
  • Conduct experiments to compare the degradation of bioplastics compared to common synthetic plastics

Victorian Curriculum

Science – Science as a human endeavour

  • Advances in scientific understanding often rely on developments in technology and technological advances are often linked to scientific discoveries (VCSSU115)
  • The values and needs of contemporary society can influence the focus of scientific research (VCSSU116)

Science – Chemical sciences

  • Different types of chemical reactions are used to produce a range of products and can occur at different rates; chemical reactions may be represented by balanced chemical equations (VCSSU125)

Design Technology – Technologies and Society

  • Critically analyse factors, including social, ethical and sustainability considerations, that impact on designed solutions for global preferred futures and the complex design and production processes involved (VCDSTS054)
  • Explain how designed solutions evolve with consideration of preferred futures and the impact of emerging technologies on design decisions (VCDSTS055)