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close this bookOutreach N° 94 - Waste - Part 4: What to do about Hazardous Waste (OUTREACH - UNEP - WWF, 34 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
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View the documentAcknowledgements
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View the documentHow to use OUTREACH packs
View the documentHow to use this OUTREACH pack
View the documentQuestions and answers: Hazardous waste
View the documentClass activity: Bike and bike products
View the documentNews brief: European waste wraps Pakistani sweets
View the documentNews brief: Indonesia's scavengers seek ban on waste imports
View the documentActivity: Hazardous waste on the Mexico-US border
View the documentArticle: Plastics: trashing the Third World
View the documentPuzzle: A junk trap!
View the documentArticle: Deadly litter chokes livestock
View the documentFiction: Adventures of Ranger Rick: Rick and the gang learn about a trashy problem
View the documentArticle and class/group activities: The Basel Convention
View the documentArticle: Keeping tabs on toxics
View the documentChart: Household products: potential hazards
View the documentActivities: What to do with hazardous waste
View the documentPuzzle: Odd one out
View the documentActivities: Use safer alternatives to house and garden ''toxics''
View the documentArticle: Mobilising against toxic waste
View the documentArticle: Oil spill!
View the documentClass/group activities: Cleaning up oil spills

Class/group activities: Cleaning up oil spills


Adapted from “Oil Spill” in Earthnotes for Educators Grades K-6, (Fall, 1991) produced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 401 M Street, S.W. (A-107) Washington, D.C. 20460 USA. If reproduced, please credit original source.


Teachers, Youth leaders: As a classroom/group activity for students to appreciate the difficulties of dealing with an oil spill.

In the Persian Gulf, containment and recovery were the two main methods used in the clean-up. Floating booms prevented the spilled oil from reaching desalination plants. Skimmers collected the spilled oil from the water's surface by suction and other means. Other oil spill clean-up methods include bioremediation, in which microbes help degrade the oil; sorbents, such as straw or vermiculite, which help absorb the oil; and chemical dispersants, which act like detergents, to break up the oil. A combination of methods are often used in clean-ups. Unfortunately, there is no method that can clean up a spill completely.

You can see for yourself which clean-up method works best. (This activity may be conducted by groups of students, or, to keep materials and equipment to a minimum, students can assist the class teacher or group leader.)

What you need:

* corn or olive oil;
* 6 bowls of water;
* spoon;
* twine;
* an eyedropper;
* handful of sand;
* different types of papers (e.g. brown paper, newspaper)
* liquid detergent.

What to do:

1. Drop a spoonful of oil onto the water in 6 bowls. Each bowl of water represents a “lake”, and the oil represents an “oil spill”.

2. In the first “lake”, use a circle of twine to contain the oil.

3. In the second “lake”, use the eye dropper to recover the oil.

4. In the third “lake”, remove the oil by sinking, using the sand.

5. In the fourth “lake”, see how effective the different papers are at removal by adsorption.

6. Use detergent in “lake” 5 to see how effective it is in dispersing the oil.

7. Once all the clean-up methods have been observed, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each method.

8. Then, try cleaning up the oil spill in the sixth “lake” using a variety of the methods above, or by using other objects that you think might work (e.g. rubber bands, cotton, cloth, saw dust, pencil shavings). Do the methods eliminate the oil from the environment or do some only remove it from sight?

(Booms keep the oil in one place, but don't remove it from the water; skimmers scoop the oil, but it is difficult to recover all the oil; materials that sink oil, simply change its location in the water.)