Monday, May 24, 2010

Spotlight on the Sixth Grade, Northeast Region, First Place Team: Get Mugged

Four sixth graders from All Saints Regional Catholic School in Little Egg Harbor, N.J., received a first-place award in this year’s national eCYBERMISSION competition. With this award, each team member will receive a $3,000.00 U.S. EE Savings Bond, a certificate of recognition from the U.S. Army and an expenses-paid trip to the National Judging and Education Event (NJ&EE) in Baltimore, Md., in June to present their final project.

The “Get Mugged” team, comprised of students Sean Nauta, Alexandra Jones Twaddell, Shannon MacMaster and Jenna Tomkins, and led by Team Advisor Barbara Amato, was recognized by judges for their ability to raise awareness on the environmental impact of plastic-lined disposable cups through education and experimentation.


More than 16 billion coffee cups end up in U.S. landfills every year. As these degrade, harmful greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere. In addition, more than eight million trees are cut down each year to make these cups. The team hypothesized that informing the public about the environmental hazards related to the use of plastic-lined paper coffee cups will increase the use of refillable mugs, resulting in less environmental contamination due to the disposal of the paper coffee cups.

The students conducted two experiments to test their hypothesis. The primary experiment consisted a pre-survey, a presentation and the post-survey. The objective of the pre-survey was to observe and gather information about the people being targeted in the experiment. This was followed by a presentation that addressed the problems of using disposable plastic-lined paper coffee cups and explained to the test subjects ways that they could help. The post-survey was issued to the test subjects to see if the team had succeeded in their mission.

The secondary experiment was designed to test decomposition rates of plastic-coated paper and non-coated paper. The team used a process similar to what ecologists use to test decomposition rates of various leaves. First, the team punched out 500 small paper discs from plastic-coated paper plates and 500 from non-coated plates. Next, they weighed each group of discs and recorded the information. The students placed the discs in specially designed decomposition chambers, buried them underground for two months, dug up the chambers, cleaned and dried the partially decomposed discs and took a final weight measurement.

The results of the survey revealed that there was a 35 percent increase in the number of refillable mugs used each week and a 29 percent decrease in the number of disposable cups used each week. The results of the secondary experiment revealed that only 53 percent of the coated paper decomposed while 79 percent of the non-coated paper decomposed.

After being successful in their initial experiments, the team hopes to continue to educate people in their community on the environmental impacts of plastic-lined paper cups and encourage the use of refillable mugs.

To view a full list of the 2009-2010 eCYBERMISSION regional winning teams, click here.

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