You need to login before you download the free activities. You can register here.


Friendly Floaters

  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Communication
Topic: Polymers

When ships sink the search for survivors is usually over in days. But thousands of ducks could be rescued after 15 years at sea. They've survived storms, years in the Arctic ice, and endless days in the glaring sun. But they're made of plastic, so they are still in one piece, and ocean currents have carried them half-way round the world. Their travels have made them famous. Collectors have being paying up to �500 per duck, and thousands could be washed up on British beaches. In this activity students consider whether this longevity is always such a good thing and learn how biopolymers could have ended the ducks journey sooner.

14-16 How Science Works:
How science works: applications and implications of science

Published: 21st September 2007
Reviews & Comments: 9

Send to a Friend

Learning objectives

Students will:
• understand the issues associated with the disposal of plastic waste.
• consider the benefits and drawbacks of biodegradable plastics.

Try the activity

Please login to download activities

How science works
4a. About the use of contemporary scientific and technological developments and their benefits, drawbacks and risks
GCSE specifications
AQA Core Unit Chemistry 1b Oils, Earth and Atmosphere
Edexcel Additional Unit C2

Running the activity

Page one is to excite students with the prospect of getting �500 for each "duck" they find. It uses a concept cartoon to elicit the idea that the ducks will not biodegrade so they are part of a wider problem with plastic waste, which poses a serious hazard to sea animals.

Page two presents the task - to produce a leaflet explaining how the amount of plastic litter in the oceans could be cut. It also provides an organiser for the fact cards on page 3, which outline the science they need to refer to. Students who need support could use the writing frame on page 4 to structure their work.

Teacher's notes:
The term "bioplastics" is used to mean non-crude oil based plastics that will biodegrade, however the true picture is more complicated as some bioplastics do not biodegrade, and some crude-oil based plastics do biodegrade!
PHA bioplastics are made as an energy store by microbes, or using GM crops with microbial DNA. Bioplastics made from it will last years in a normal kitchen or bathroom, but biodegrade quickly if exposed to high populations of microbes. The ducks would would only have lasted a few weeks if they had been made of PHA. But industrial composting facilities are needed to ensure bulk quantities of bioplastics biodegrade; garden compost heaps are generally too cool.

News links

Oceans of waste
A stimulating article with links to high quality images, including one of the mass of plastic waste found in a dead sea bird's stomach.
Thousands of rubber ducks to land on British shores after 15 year journey
The original news story with a map of the ducks' journey.
Plastic marine debris
Video outlining the rising problem of plastic litter in the oceans.

Media links

Images of polymer grains inside bacteria and a film made from it breaking down.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Great Hook

Dec 1st, 2008

4 Star

This really got my low ability year 10 group engaged in the topic of plastics. A great way to generate dscussion.

Reviewer: Karen McWilliam

AQA core science chemistry

Oct 20th, 2008

4 Star

This worked really well as a starting point for discussions and then research activity to prepare a presentation on problems of waste disposal for a year 11 class.
W Woodburn

Reviewer: w woodburn

Friendly loaters

Jul 7th, 2008

4 Star

I used this as an engaging way to introduce plastics to an Entry Level year 11 student. He found the activity interesting, the info cards were very useful and it led to further research for his portfolio.

Reviewer: Jennifer Mayer

rooneys foot

Jul 2nd, 2008

5 Star

Excellent way to motivate boys who weren't switched on to science. Great 'in' to science in context.

Reviewer: Michael Corbett

problems with plastic

Jun 28th, 2008

4 Star

This has been very useful in my year 10 classes in teaching about the problemes of plastics in the environment. I loved the links to the research work in Canada about seabirds eating plastic waste.

Reviewer: jean Pitchers


May 14th, 2008

5 Star

just the ticket and it links with all the rescued duck race ducks i have from the beach. Using it for our year 8 annual 'Green week'. thanks ducks and upd8

Reviewer: julie ramsey

Friendly floaters

May 13th, 2008

4 Star

This is a fun activity which is a good starter to work on polymers and the issues of non-biodegradable plastics.

Students in year 10 enjoyed it, and are now convinced that they will be millionaires this summer when they find huge numbers of the escapee ducks.

Thank you to the writer.

Reviewer: Kate Balfour

c2 polymers

Apr 6th, 2008

5 Star

What fun, I've just downloaded this for my yr 10's. I'm sure they will love it. Thank you.

Reviewer: Gill Mulliss

Friendly Floaters review

Oct 3rd, 2007

3 Star

Good idea fun to use

Reviewer: Hazel Banfield