02 Environmental Research

This event is limited to the first 18 entries

2018 Topic: Bioplastic


Creating plastics from natural materials is not a novel idea; but their role in Earth’s environmental future certainly may be vital.  Plastics are synthetic or man-made polymers typically derived from hydrocarbon monomers.  They have become a daily part of our lives and a daily part of our waste stream. Less than ten percent of plastics are being recycled, and it is estimated to take about 500 years for the plastics that wind up in landfills to decompose.  Can bioplastics made from plants and other living materials be the solution? Investigate the potential for bioplastics as a sustainable solution.



Part 1 -  Conduct literature research to address the following:

  • Discuss various types of bioplastics.  Provide information about the similarities and differences in their chemistry.  
  • Identify and explain the role of plasticizers when making bioplastics.  Elaborate on how they impact the properties of bioplastics.
  • Describe the process of polymerization.
  • Investigate if whether and/or how bioplastics are a sustainable solution. Justify your answer.

Part 2 -  Conduct original research

  • Identify procedures and synthesize bioplastics of two or three different types.
  • Identify typical polymer strength tests that can be performed in the high school environment, such as tensile strength, elongation and tear resistance, and perform those tests on your synthesized products.
  • Relate the properties measured to the chemistry of each biopolymer produced.
  • Choose one of the synthesis procedures you have previously identified and conduct a scientific investigation to explore how changes to that procedure result in a different product or different properties of the same product. 

Part 3 - Report of Student Understanding and Research Findings

A research paper that includes information addressing the following and demonstrates understanding and information from the literature research above. This should include the following:

  • Describe the chemistry involved in the synthesis of bioplastics.
  • Make an argument for or against the potential for bioplastics to be a sustainable solution.
  • Discuss the limitations of bioplastics and relate those limitations to the chemical structure of the biopolymers.
  • All reference material should be properly cited and citations should have credibility.

Event Day

Teams will make a short (three minutes) presentation via PowerPoint Slides or poster. Presentations will be scheduled for the morning of the Chemistry Olympics. (6 minutes maximum: 3 minute prepared presentation + 3 minutes Q&A) - This presentation should focus solely on the resolution results in Part 2 and should highlight the students' understanding of the chemistry of the bioplastics they have created synthesized and tested. Students must relate their understanding of biopolymer chemistry to their experimental findings. Specific laboratory data collected should be presented to the judges in a graphical/pictorial manner, when appropriate.  Conclusions from experimentation should be clearly supported by the data provided.



Learn about the requirements concerning Primary Sources, formatting and citations for your research paper: Research Guidelines and Requirements

The Environmental Research Paper must be received by the Event Coordinator of the NJCO by the deadline indicated in: Requirement Overview.


Written report 40% total

  • Accuracy of technical component(s).
  • Depth and accuracy of chemistry of biopolymer synthesis.
  • Demonstration of understanding how chemical structure of biopolymer results in varying physical properties of bioplastics.
  • Support of argument for or against bioplastics.  The argument must include evidentiary statements and be grounded in good reasoning.
  • Quality of references and appropriate citations.

Experiment and Results 20% total

  • Evidence of good scientific method
  • Clear experimental procedure
  • Graphical analysis of results

Presentation, 40% total

  • Technical knowledge of subject
  • Presentation quality
  • Answers to questions