APES digging project tests item biodegradability

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 For the first time at San Gabriel High School (SGHS), environmental science teachers David Whitman and Jennifer Wright’s Advanced Placement Environmental Science (APES) classes are participating in the Great Biodegradable Burial experiment where various items, including notebook paper, plastic, bread, hair, and even dead animals (fish and bugs) are buried one foot below the dirt. This experiment is used to test whether manufacturers, who claim that their products are biodegradable are being truthful.

“[I hope my students will learn] that when somebody says something is biodegradable, that it is often not the case,” Whitman said. “It is almost false advertising.”

While digging, some students found a wire and ketchup packet already inside the dirt. The students were able to determine what those materials were as the materials were in their near original condition. This brings to question how the soon-to-be dug up materials will turn out seven months from now.

“I am not sure [how the materials will turn out], but I am hoping that some of the materials buried will come out looking like they were eaten by a raccoon,” junior Mimi Han said.

Contrary to what she hopes, Han believes that most of the buried things, with the exception of the dead bug and dead fish, will end up looking exactly the same as when they were buried because she does not believe they are biodegradable.

Retired APES teacher Daniel Hyke from Alhambra High School informed Whitman of the Great Biodegradable Burial which allowed  Whitman and Wright to see whether manufacturers are being truthful about their products being biodegradable. Although Whitman “cannot tell what is going to happen [to the things being buried],” he is making good use of the extra space SGHS has to offer by using an unused plantation for experimental purposes.

This experiment, unlike most, spans over several months for results to show. In April, AP Environmental students and teachers will be able to determine whether manufacturers are actually selling the biodegradable products that they claim to do.

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