“Green” living is suddenly popular, as more and more people become concerned about the environment. “Green” science projects can help you explore ideas about green living and help you make your home and school more environmentally-friendly. Here are a few to try:
BIG BOX OR SMALL?
If you’ve been shopping with your parents, you’ve probably noticed that many products are less expensive by weight if you buy them in a big package instead of several small ones. Are there environmental advantages as well as economic? Next time you’re at the store, find boxes of laundry detergent in different sizes. Measure the dimensions of the box: length, width, and height. Use these measurements to calculate the total number of square inches of cardboard used. Also record the amount of laundry detergent that comes in each box. The weight should be printed on the package. Once you know the total square inches of cardboard, divide that by the weight in ounces. Which package uses more cardboard per ounce: the big one or the small one?
BAGS OF WASTE
When your family shops for groceries, do you bring the groceries home in plastic bags or paper? Save the bags from every shopping trip for a week. How many bags did your family bring home. Now multiply this by 52, for the number of weeks in a year. How many bags did your family bring home in a year? Do you think your family uses an average number of bags? Try multiplying the number of bags you use in a year by the number of people in your town. How many bags are used in your town each year? That’s a LOT of bags, isn’t it?
What can you do to reduce the number of bags that you use? You can encourage your family to use reusable shopping bags. Many stores sell shopping bags at very low cost, or you can buy inexpensive canvas tote bags at craft stores. See if your store allows you to reuse plastic or paper bags, or if there are bag drop-off sites for recycling. Discuss your ideas with your family.
Composting is a great way to turn kitchen and yard waste into free fertilizer and soil conditioner for your garden. Compost piles work best if they’re kept well aerated, and if there’s more “browns” (dry leaves, coffee grounds, straw) than “greens” (fresh-cut grass, fruit and vegetable peels). Set up experiments to find the best balance between “greens” and “browns” in separate compost piles. How can you balance the “greens” and “browns” to produce compost the fastest? You can also set up experiments to test the effects of aerating or turning the compost pile. Try turning one pile frequently with a digging fork, and leave another pile alone. Which composts fastest?
What kind of cleaning products do you use in your household? Do homemade alternatives, made from safe kitchen chemicals work as well or even better? Set up side-by-side comparisons and find out. Some homemade cleaning products to try:
Copper cleaner: wet a copper item with vinegar, sprinkle on some salt, and rub with a paper towel dipped in vinegar. The mixture creates a weak solution of hydrochloric acid, which dissolves copper oxide and leaves the copper shiny.
Baking soda: Baking soda dissolved in water is good for cleaning kitchen and bathroom counters, bathtubs, showers, refrigerators, and more.
Vinegar and water: Mix equal parts of white vinegar and water and put in spray bottle. Use this as an all-purpose cleaner for countertops and most bathroom surfaces. It can also be used as a glass cleaner.
OUTDOOR AIR QUALITY
What kind of particles are floating around in the air outside? You can find out using some scrap plastic, such as the clear lids from deli containers. Cut out the central circle of plastic. Punch a hole in one edge. Cover the disk with a thin film of petroleum jelly. Use a string to hang the disk under the eaves of your house where it will be protected from wind and rain. Leave in place about a week. When you take it down, use a magnifying glass to find and count the number of tiny, airborne particles on the disk. If your science teacher has a good dissecting microscope, you can find even more particles. With permission, try making more disks and hanging them in different places.
With the help of your family, you can create habitat for wildlife in your back yard. You’ll need to provide food, water, shelter, and nesting sites. If you visit the National Wildlife Federation webpage and look at the “Garden for Wildlife” section (http://www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife/), you can find lots of information on how to make your yard wildlife-friendly with some simple projects. Keep a notebook of the wildlife that you see before your project and after. Were you successful in your efforts?