Early Childhood Programs Blog

Biomimicry: Decomposers and Recycling

May 30, 2018 - Earth Friends, Preschool


Have you ever eaten muscles before?  Most people go to the store or seafood market to buy them already pre-plucked from their rocky homes.  In the wild, muscles create an incredibly strong adhesive.  If you’ve ever been to the ocean and tried to pry muscles from the rocks, you’d know they can really hold on tight.  But what makes these threads that the muscles use to keep themselves on rocks so special?  These threads are incredibly strong but also biodegradable at the right time.  During the time the muscle is using these threads, the coating over the threads stays intact, preventing it from decomposing in the strong waves and saltwater but once the muscle is done and it releases the threads they quickly decompose.  Scientists are trying to develop a similar coating that can be biodegradable because that means less stuff taking up room in landfills.  You can learn more about these muscles and other cool biomimicry connections in the book “Biomimicry: Inventions Inspired by Nature” by Dora Lee.  Since we were talking about decomposers today, we used this example and another one from the book about orange peels.  A new plastic is being developed using carbon dioxide and orange peel oil!  What a great alternative to petroleum based plastics!

(Pictures: a shelf fungus, mushrooms on the trail, a decomposing omnivore, Lev with a baby American Toad, decomposing game)

Before heading out onto the trail we finished our discussion about decomposers and the importance of trying to make smart choices to reduce our environmental impact.  We used our breakfasts as examples.  We thought about where our breakfasts came from and where they went once we were done eating them.  For example, let’s say you ate yogurt for breakfast.  Yogurt is made from dairy, which comes from a cow.  That cow needs to be fed and drink water, which has it’s own impact on the environment.  Your yogurt may also have berries in it that were grown on trees.  What happens to those trees, do we spray them with pesticides, do they need a lot of water too?  Then your yogurt is made in a factory and put into a container.  It’s shipped to a store where you drive to go buy it and then drive it home.  Then you eat it and what happens to the container?  Hopefully we can recycle it to give it a second life instead of having it head to a landfill.  We also learned a bit more about the benefits of composting, even though it’s something that not everyone can do since you either need to have a yard where you can have your own compost or it needs to be curb side like your garbage and recycling.  Jasper also mentioned a really cool new invention, a biodegradable algae based water bottle, here it is: https://www.fastcompany.com/3058190/you-can-eat-this-algae-based-water-bottle-when-youre-done-with-your-drink

Since the sun was relentless today (in the 90s!) we decided to stay in the shade and the popular vote was to head to the stream.  On our way we found some pretty cool nature things like a small American Toad and a variety of mushrooms.  We quickly talked about how the mushroom you see above grown is the fruiting body of the mushroom, the rest is an invisible network under ground, connected by mycelium.  At the stream we re-examined the animal skeleton by the stream and learned about how to tell whether the animal is a herbivore, omnivore or carnivore.  Herbivores, like deer, have no canine teeth and pillar like molars.  Omnivores, like humans, have smaller canine teeth and flatter molars for grinding food.  Carnivores, like fox, have larger canines and pointy, mountain like molars.  Looking at this animal it was an omnivore, so most likely a raccoon or opossum.  At the stream, we spent our time building a dam, a favorite activity from Fall.  Piper also showed me she knew about jewelweed and the iridescent shimmer it makes under water.  After some teamwork building the dam it was time to release it.  Once it was released everyone rushed down the stream and watched the water rush along.  This is when we found the whirlpool!  We had noticed that the stream was running down into a hole in the stream bed before flowing over the rocks below.  When the water from the dam passed over it it created a really cool whirlpool!  We noticed the direction the water was swirling and then plugged the hole and opened it again to recreate the whirlpool.

With the heat intensifying it was time to head back and cool off.  We had a few recycling activities planned.  Inside we sat down and laid out some cards with pictures on them.  The pictures were of items that we commonly throw away (or hopefully recycle) like apple cores, plastic bottles, diapers, glass, etc.  We then had to line up these items in the order we thought it would take them to decompose from quickest to slowest.  We had a lot of items and even though we got a few right, a lot of us were shocked by some of the items.  For example, glass can take millions of years to decompose and materials like styrofoam may never decompose.  How do scientists know this?  They use formulas to estimate the time based on experiments.  These experiments place small bits of these materials into a chamber with decomposers and see how much carbon dioxide is produced and then determine how long it would take to decompose.  Materials like glass and styrofoam create no carbon dioxide emissions.  Lastly, we had a pile of trash, some of it only bound for the landfill while the rest could be recycled.  It was our task to sort it.  We let the kids try it and then provided guidance.  Everyone did a really good job!  We took home recycling sheets to help remind us which items can be recycled and which can’t.  Some commonly mistaken items are put in recycling that can’t be recycled are paper towels, styrofoam, and single use plastic containers like take-out containers.  Our kids are the future and we hope that through environmental education they can help us make the planet a more beautiful and clean place to live!