Saturday, February 7, 2009

Projects for a Healthy Planet by Levine & Grafton ... A GREAT BOOK!



  • Fresh celery with leaves
  • Knife
  • 2 glasses
  • Apple juice
  • Water
  • Red and blue food coloring (to represent pollution)

What to do

  1. Cut off the bottom from 2 pieces of celery.
  2. Fill 1 glass halfway apple juice. Add 3 drops of red food coloring.
  3. Fill the other glass halfway with water. Add 3 drops of blue food coloring.
  4. Gently place one piece of celery in each glass and let it stand for several hours. The food coloring will show how far the "polluted" water traveled up the celery stalk.
  5. Take the celery out of the apple juice, rinse it off, cut off and set aside the bottom end. Carefully cut the rest into slices.
  6. Have everyone taste the celery. Can you taste the apple juice?
  7. Now take the celery out of the water, rinse it off and carefully cut it into slices. Can you taste a difference?

So what happened? Plants take water from the soil through their roots and stems. This water contains moisture and minerals that a plant needs to grow. If the water is polluted, the plant could absorb the pollution. Any living thing – birds, fish, animals, or people – that eat plants that have a polluted water source are also taking in these pollutants. Even though the celery soaked up the apple juice, you could not taste it. And you can't taste if any pollutants make their way into your food either.

Did you know?
About 70% of the earth's surface is covered with water, but only 1% is available for drinking water. Rain washes pollutants such as pesticides, artificial fertilizers, chemicals from industry and toxic wastes into rivers, lake and oceans, where they can contaminate the water supply. Any living thing that gets water from a polluted source is also affected. It only takes a tiny amount of pollutants to make a huge amount of water unsafe to drink.



  • Stale, unbuttered, unsalted popcorn
  • Small plastic pail
  • Stopwatch or watch with a second hand

What to do

  1. Find a small pond or lake where you can perform this experiment.
  2. Fill the pail with popcorn.
  3. Find a safe place to stand on the shore, or stand on a bridge if there is one available. Throw the popcorn into the water.
  4. Time the popcorn to see how long it takes to spread out.
  5. Take notes about what the popcorn becomes attached to.
  6. If possible, follow the spill to see where it goes and what it touches.

So what happened? Throwing popcorn into water is a safe way to show the impact of oil spills on the environment. (The popcorn will easily decompose and not pollute the water.) Imagine that the popcorn is really oil. Did you see how fast the "slick" spread through the water and how many plants, rocks and objects it touched? What effect do you think a real oil spill might have had on plants, fish and animals that live in and on the water? In an oil spill, wave action causes oil to coat plants, shorelines, birds, animals and anything else the oil touches. The short-term effects are easy to see. The black tarlike oil covers everything and causes lots of marine life to die. Animals that eat the oil-coated plants and animals also become contaminated or poisoned.

Did you know?
On average, less than 10% of the oil in any spill can be cleaned up. If you think that's bad, just consider this: The amount of oil dumped into the ground every three weeks by people changing their own car oil is about 11 million gallons. This is equal to the amount of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska.



  • Soap flakes (or left over slivers of soap)
  • Microwavable bowl or old pot for cooking
  • Glycerin (available at drug stores)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Cinnamon or paprika (optional)
  • Food coloring
  • Old muffin tins, old molds or small plastic containers

What to do

  1. Put 1 cup of soap flakes in a microwavable bowl.
  2. Add 1/3 cup of glycerin and 2 tablespoons of rubbing alcohol to the soap flakes and stir. Gently add 1/8 cup of water to the mixture and stir. (You can vary the amounts of glycerin and rubbing alcohol to make the soap more opaque or softer.)
  3. For a rust-colored soap that smells like cinnamon, you can add about 1 tablespoon of cinnamon to the mixture. If you want a spicy soap with a coral color, add about 1 tablespoon of paprika. If you'd like just a colored soap, you can add a drop of natural food coloring.
  4. Microwave the soap mixture until it comes to a boil. You can do the same on the stove over low heat and slowly bring it to a boil.
  5. As soon as the mixture has boiled, put it in a safe place to cool. Stir the mixture occasionally while it is cooling.
  6. When the mixture is cool and clear but still liquid, pour it into molds and allow to set until firm. This may take several hours.
  7. Turn the molds upside down and take out the soaps. If the soap sticks, run a knife around the edge of the mold and pry the soap out. If you wish, you may wrap the soaps in tissue paper until you are ready to use them.

So what happened? In this experiment, the glycerin (which is an oil) combined with the soap flakes (which are alkaline, or not acidic) to produce the soap. This is a very mild and non-irritating soap because it contains no lye (which is harsh and dry your skin) and contains only natural ingredients. The soap you buy in stores is not required by law to list its ingredients. Most soaps are made from a combination of animal and vegetable fats, but it can contain substances that harm both you and the environment.



  • Old newspapers
  • Cedar or other wood chips, or crushed pine cones
  • Twine or string
  • Old plastic wading pool or large washtub
  • Water
  • Salt

What to do

  1. Find a nice dry place outside to work. Place about 20 to 30 large sheets of newspaper together.
  2. Add 1 cup of shavings or crushed pine cones between every 8 pages.
  3. Tightly roll each section and tie loosely at each end.
  4. Fill the pool with water and enough chips, pine cones, or other nice smelling woods to cover about half of the water's surface. Add about 3 cups of salt to the water (this will make the logs burn red).
  5. Place your logs in the water, turning them several times to cover with water. Leave the logs in the pool for 1 week, turning them at least once per day.
  6. When the week is up, remove the logs and place them in a safe area to dry. When your logs have dried completely, they are ready to burn.

So what happened? You have just saved a tree and made a recycled product. During the soaking process, the roll absorbed the water solution, which will make it burn longer after it has dried out.

Did you know?
Every day there are about 72 million newspapers sold in the US and Canada. And over 70% of these papers are just thrown away. This means that about 80,000 trees are thrown into dumps each day. Paper and paperboard make up almost 1/3 of all landfill wastes. By recycling paper, we not only save trees but also reduce pollution and landfills.



  • Paper towels
  • Bowl or dish
  • Used tea bag
  • Scissors
  • Small flower or vegetable seeds (Note: Not all seeds will sprout, so if you can, try this experiment with 2 or 3 tea bags with a seed, each in its own bowl.)

What to do

  1. Fold the paper towel into quarters, wet it completely, and place it in the middle of the bowl.
  2. Flatten the tea bag and lay it in the center of the paper towel.
  3. Cut a hole in the top of the tea bag. Then wet the tea bag.
  4. Plant a seed in the wet tea bag.
  5. Place the bowl in a sunny window. Add a little water to the tea bag each day.
  6. When your seedling has grown enough (about 1 week to sprout and 3-4 weeks to grow), you may wish to replant it (tea bag and all) in the garden or in a pot with soil.

So what happened? The tea bag provided the nutrients and the moisture that the seedling needed to grow. This is a great way to recycle tea bags that don't end up in the compost or trash.

Did you know?
Plants are amazing. Some plants can grow in salt water, some in sandy soils, and some in no soil at all. With the increase in pollution of our lands and water supplies, it may be necessary in the future to develop plants that adapt to harsher environments and are more resistant to pollutants.

Some different types of plants help each other by repelling insects and warding off diseases. Some good "buddies" include: garlic, which keeps many insects away from flowers and other plants; onions and chives which prevent rust on carrots planted near them; mint which keeps butterflies away from cabbage; and French marigolds which are thought to help tomatoes and beans. Give your plant a buddy!

No comments: