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Where Did My Plastic Waste Go? – a Data Graphing Activity

Lesson Plan for Grade 6, Data Exploration and Analysis

Prepared by Mrs. Hussaini from Houston, TX

Overview & Purpose

Students will learn about plastic waste in the Earth’s oceans and the amounts of plastic waste generated by each country in the year 2010 (the earliest year data was available). Students will further compare the amounts of plastic waste produced by collecting data and entering it into a spreadsheet.

Education Standards

  1. Represent numeric data graphically including dot plots, bar charts, and line charts.
  2. Interpret numeric data contained in dot plots, bar charts, and line charts. 
  3. Summarize numeric data including the mean and median (measures of center), the range and interquartile range (IQR) measures of spread, and use these summaries to describe the center, spread, and shape of the data distribution.

Materials Needed

  1. Pencil
  2. Graph paper
  3. Computer


1. At the beginning of the class, show the YouTube videos on Plastic Waste in the Ocean.

2. Students will then read the article, “Where Did my Plastic Waste Go?

3. As a group, ask students what plastic is made of? What gyres are? How do scientists measure plastic waste in gyres? Students should be familiar with the conversion of tonnes to pounds (1 tonne= 2204.62 pounds).

4. Ask students to study the pictures of the turtle and albatross- how has plastic waste affected sea animals?

Peanut is a deformed turtle by a six-pack ring. Photo by Missouri Department of Conservation

5. Ask them to study the map included with the article. Discuss which countries have the most amounts of plastic waste? Which oceans have the most plastic waste?


Prompt students to download the Google spreadsheet on their own computers using any browser. (This list only includes 10 countries, you may edit to include any countries you wish to compare. The full dataset comes from this paper in Science and can be found in this repository.)

Students must save the spreadsheet to their own Google Drive or any cloud-based drive in order to edit it.

The spreadsheet has one tab: Global plastic waste 2010.

Demonstrate how to create a graph of the data.

  • Select the cells we want to include in the graph, including title cells.
  • Click Insert > Chart

-A graph is automatically generated.

Finally, discuss the trends the students can see from the data such as which countries have the most plastic waste? Which have the least? Ask the question, do the countries with the most amount of plastic waste correspond to the map of the gyres of the Earth’s oceans? Did the country with the most waste, from the Google Sheets data set, lie next to the ocean that had the most plastic waste?

Students can calculate the mean amount of plastic waste generated by adding the numbers and dividing by 10 (the total number of countries included).

Hint: Students can add all the numbers and then move the decimal place to the left one place as it is dividing by 10.


Mean=12675352.6  tonnes of waste produced by these 10 countries.

Calculating Median:

 Have students arrange the numbers in order from least to greatest. The numbers in the middle will be the median. Median= 4710000 tonnes.

Additional Activity:

Students can create an interactive presentation of the plastic waste found in the Earth’s oceans in the Code with Google resources.

Other Resources:

Our site offers many other scientific articles about pollution, plastic, and water resources. Everything is free to download! Just use the filter to find the ones you need.

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