Cup experiment surprises kids
A school science project to see how well coffee cups broke down in compost has revealed some surprising results for Kaeo students.
Jessica and Nina Quinlan with Lizzy Varney thought that the seven coffee cups they composted would struggle to break down, after learning that most ‘‘biodegradable’’ plastics needed to be commercially composted.
For their experiment, three compost bins with seven takeaway cups each, were monitored over four months, with all of the cups breaking down to almost nothing.
Their lids however remained largely intact, with the students only noticing small tears in the plastic.
‘‘We were quite surprised at how fast they broke down, after the first and second months, there was the most change,’’ Jessica says.
‘‘Our research said that biodegradable cups needed a commercial facility, so we weren’t expecting them to break down.’’
They were dug up monthly, and photographed with the experiment results to be presented at the Far North Science and Technology in August.
The home schooled trio had been interested to find out how well the cups broke down, so they collected takeaway cups from six vendors in Kaeo and 20 in Kerikeri. Of these only eight were labelled as being biodegradable.
The test cups, left out in the elements, barely broke down at all, leading the students to be concerned about the number going to landfill and remaining intact.
Between 100-200 million disposable single-use cups are estimated to be used each year in New Zea- land.
Nina says a solution is to encourage people to take reusable mugs for their hot drinks, while Lizzy says cafe owners could offer a discount for drinks made in reusable cups.
When the cups were collected in March the vendors were interested in the students’ project, and a letter is being drafted to inform the owners of their results and a request for a discount for people using reusable cups.
The students have also been involved with organising two roadside cleanups in Kaeo and recently have begun sewing reusable fabric bags to be used at their local supermarket.
A logo featuring the Kaeo sign will be printed on the bags, and once they have 100 they will go to the Kaeo Four Square.
Kaeo students Lizzie, Jessica and Nina have been surprised to find their coffee cups biodegrade.