Academics, Environmental Sustainability, Upper School

Experimenting with Green Chemistry

Junior chemistry students recently learned how to create their own bioplastics out of common materials such as milk and vinegar or corn oil and corn meal. The bioplastics unit is a new focus of Chemistry teacher Olivia Heeter.

"Chemistry, as an industry, has really focused on changing into a green perspective," explains Olivia. Chemists now place a greater focus on the toxicity of materials used, and the toxicity of chemical reactions as well. Olivia is taking that “environmental focused shift in the industry and replicating it into the classroom.”

After creating the bioplastics, students buried them in pots in the Urban Farm and Garden. At the end of the school year, students will dig up the bioplastics to see how much they have decomposed.

Students then brought in various kinds of synthetic plastics from home and subjected them to observational tests such as placing the plastics in boiling water or submerging them in acetone. The students performed the same tests on the bioplastics, and compared how those results differed from the synthetic plastic reactions.

Olivia worked with Northwest's Director of Environmental Education and Sustainability Jenny Cooper to expand the lab experiment beyond synthetic plastics.

Olivia wanted to introduce an environmental lens. "By using bioplastics, we can study the chemical properties of plastics while focusing on sustainability."