Plastic in the Ocean: Merging Art and Science on Marine Debris

Are you a teacher looking for an activity for students working from home during the COVID-19 global pandemic?

This activity can be completed remotely with items found in most homes.

After completing this activity, students should be able to:

  • Describe the way plastic waste threatens the health of global waterways {Knowledge: information gathering}
  • Discuss plastic waste and our own behavior. How do we use plastic? Can we avoid it? {Taking apart: analysis}
  • Create an image from plastic waste {Making use of knowledge: application}


Learning about Plastic Pollution

Ask your students to research plastic pollution around the world.

National Geographic has a lot of resources appropriate for kids:

The World’s Plastic Pollution Crisis Explained

Ten Shocking Facts about Plastic

Reflect of the problem of plastic by answering the following questions

  • How much plastic is there in the world?
  • How does plastic waste harm wildlife?
  • How do we dispose of plastic?
  • What kind of recycling for soft plastic (ex: chip bag, tortilla packaging, bread bag) is available in my community?
  • How can I reduce my plastic use?


Come together as a group to discuss or share answers to an online discussion.


Learning about Plastic Art

Visit the websites of artists who use plastic as a medium. There are hundreds of artists doing amazing work with and about plastic pollution—a few of my favorites are:


Our activity today is based on my work sewing soft plastics onto large canvases in the shapes of sea creatures


Octopus (96 x 59 inches, photo credit: John Groo)


Whale (75 x 61 inches, photo credit: John Groo)



Closeup, Whale (photo credit: John Groo)


Closeup, Octopus (photo credit: John Groo)


Look closely, do you recognize where some of these plastics came from?



Here’s a simple version of this project appropriate for younger students



  • Soft plastics
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Paper



  1. Collect soft plastics in a range of colors


  1. Draw an image on a piece of paper




  1. Cut soft plastic into small pieces


  1. Glue pieces onto your image





  1. Voilà!




More advanced students can…

  • sew plastics onto fabric with needle and thread
  • create more elaborate images
  • create larger images
  • create more meaningful images (i.e., of species, landscapes, or communities impacted by marine debris)
  • use this material the way you would tiles in a mosaic



Shout out to the amazing Shari Bergel for inspiring this!

Download a PDF of the activity here:

Plastic in the Ocean_Art and Science