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ACTIVITY: DIY Beeswax Wraps

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts:

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas:

The activity below draws from the content in the page Marine Debris.

Phenomenon:

Plastic products, like straws and bags, are polluting the environment as marine debris (Fig. 1). <p>Fig. 1. Marine debris at the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i.&nbsp;</p><br />


Inquiry:

How can beeswax wraps be used to replace plastic bags in your home, snacks, and lunches (Fig. 2 and 3)?

<p>Fig 2. Beeswax wrap prepared to wrap a muffin.</p> <p>Fig. 3. Plastic bags are commonly used to pack food for school lunches.</p><br />


Guiding Questions: 

  1. What is the problem with single use plastics?
  2. How can we reduce our plastic use?

Activity:

Design and create your own beeswax wraps to develop alternatives to single use plastics.


Materials

Part A. Color Your Cloth:

  • Pre-washed cotton material piece, approximately 11 inches square
  • Manila folder (or other type of thick paper)
  • Painter tape or masking tape
  • Fabric markers
  • Stencils (optional, Fig. 4)
  • Pinking shears (zig-zag scissors, Fig. 5)

<p><strong>Fig. 4 (A) </strong>Stencils can be purchased (top) or cut from stiff paper or stencil plastic (bottom).</p> <p><strong>Fig. 4 (B) </strong>Get creative and make stencils related to your school or project.</p>


<p><strong>Fig. 5</strong> Pinking shears cut in a zig-zag pattern to stop the edges from fraying.&nbsp;</p>

Part B: Infuse Your Cloth with Beeswax:

  • Parchment paper
  • Beeswax beads or pellets
  • Iron
  • Ironing board

Part C: Engineer Use for Beeswax Wraps

  • Water
  • Cloth that has no beeswax added (same type of cloth used in Part A)
  • Snack items, for example:
    Carrot sticks, apple slices, muffins. crackers, pretzels, or nuts
  • Watery items in bowls, for example:
    yogurt, apple sauce, or poi
  • Rubber bands
  • String

Teacher Notes and Recommendations:

  • This activity was inspired by Meli Wraps, which the authors have used to successfully reduce their own plastic use: https://meli-wraps.myshopify.com
  • These wraps are made only of cotton cloth and beeswax. They will not be sticky like commercial beeswax wraps, which also contain tree rosin and plant oil. These beeswax-only wraps will also acquire folds and creases over time. Additionally, they may develop areas of “low wax”. You can add wax and re-iron to refresh the wraps at any time.
  • Beeswax is considered edible because it is non-toxic. However, humans cannot digest it very well, so it does not have high nutritonal value. The formation of wax by bees is really interesting (and involves drying out the nectar to reduce its water content), and the use of beeswax by humans has a long history (including many modern applications, such as cosmetics).
  • This lesson is a great opportunity to teach students about the Ocean Literacy Principles. Have them draw and/or record each of the principles. Drawing images, words or phrases that are meaningful and connect to students personally will help them to engage with and remember the Ocean Literacy Principles
  • Helpful additional classroom material:

  • Notes on materials:
    • The heated iron sets the colors, so you don’t need to wash before ironing.
    • Fabric markers are better, as the permanent markers run when ironed with the beeswax, even if you put it through the washer and dryer first.
    • Use about 1/3 cup per 11 inch square piece of fabric.
    • Grated beeswax (from a block) can also be used, but pellets are generally the same cost and donʻt require the extra prep time of grating.
    • You can cut the fabric in any shape or size depending on desired uses.
    • It is better to have too much wax than not enough. If there is not enough wax, liquids will pass through the cloth. If there is too much wax (i.e., globs of wax), you can use an extra cloth to soak up some excess wax. Lay the next cloth on top, replace the parchment paper, and iron gently until the original cloth has a nice amount of wax.

Procedure:

  1. Wash and dry fabric
  2. Use pinking shears to cut pieces from cotton material for each student

Part A. Color your cloth

<p><strong>Fig. 6.</strong> Painters tape used to hold fabric for drawing.&nbsp;</p>

  1. Use tape to secure your piece of cloth to the manila folder (Fig. 6).
    1. Tape close to the edge so you will be able to color the maximum area of your cloth.
    2. Use small pieces of tape rather than taping the entire edge.
  2. Use markers and stencils to color and personalize your fabric.
  3. Remove the tape.
    1. Pull tape from the middle of the cloth toward the outside to prevent fraying.
  4. Check the edges of your cloth to see if any areas need to be re-trimmed.
    1. Use the pinking shears to re-trim frayed areas of your cloth as needed.

Part B. Infuse your cloth with beeswax (with help from your teacher!):

  1. Tape one piece of parchment paper to the ironing board.
  2. Place your cloth on the parchment paper.
  3. Sprinkle beeswax pellets on the cloth (Fig. 7).

<p><strong>Fig. 7. (A)</strong> Sprinkle beeswax pellets, or grated beeswax, onto your cloth.&nbsp;</p><br />
<p><strong>Fig. 7. (B) </strong>Spread the beeswax evenly to the edges.&nbsp;</p><br />


<p><strong>Fig. 8.</strong> Iron gently until the beeswax is melted.&nbsp;</p>

  1. Cover your cloth and beeswax with a second piece of parchment paper.
  2. Iron (on the cotton setting) gently over the top of the parchment paper (Fig. 8). Make sure that wax is melted into all areas of your cloth!
  1. Remove the parchment paper.
  2. Wait a few moments for the cloth to cool enough to touch.
  3. Gently remove the cloth, and hang your cloth to finish cooling (Fig. 9).

<p><strong>Fig. 9.</strong> Finished beeswax wraps hanging to dry.&nbsp;</p><br />


Part C. Engineer methods for using your beeswax wrap to transport and preserve snacks

  1. Determine if water will pass through a piece of cloth that does not have beeswax added.
  2. Determine if water will pass through your piece of cloth that has beeswax added.
  3. Experiment with methods to use your wrap to pack free-roaming snacks, like carrots or crackers.
    1. Try making an envelope.
    2. Try using heat from your hand to shape and secure your wrap in various positions and with various foods.
  4. Use your wrap to secure a wet snack in a bowl.
    1. Use rubber bands, string, or other materials to secure the wrap as needed.
    2. Test the ability of your wrap to keep the liquid snack in the bowl.
  5. Use soap and water to gently wash your wrap. Dry it with a towel.


Activity Questions

<p>Fig. 10.&nbsp;Beeswax wrap folded to secure a muffin for later snacking.</p>

  1. How did adding beeswax to the cotton change the way the material interacted with water?
  2. How would having too little beeswax affect your wrap?
  3. Why did the wrap stiffen as it cooled?
  4. How did heating the wrap help you to make useful shapes (Fig. 10)?
  5. What do you think might happen to your wrap if you wash it with extremely hot water?
  6. Over time your wrap may crease or lose wax. How do you think you will be able to fix this?
  7. What types of snacks or foods would not be well suited to the beeswax wrap?
  8. What physical properties would help to make your wrap work better?
  9. How will using your wrap to pack snacks help to reduce marine debris?
  10. How does your use of a beeswax wrap relate to Ocean Literacy Principle #6—that the ocean and humans are inextricably connected?
  11. What other uses can you think of for beeswax wraps?

Further Investigations:

  1. Investigate the effect of various temperature treatments on your beeswax wraps (hint: consider cutting a finished wrap into smaller squares and use these to replicate temperature treatments).
  2. Investigate the materials used to make commercially available wraps. How do the materials work together to create these wraps? What are the advantages to these types of wraps? What are the disadvantages of the commercial wraps?\
  3. Investigate the properties of beeswax:
    1. What is its melting point?
    2. What is its Boiling point?
    3. What is its Freezing point?
  4. How does beeswax breakdown in the environment? How does this make it different than plastic?
  5. Investigate the history of human use of beeswax.
  6. Investigate the production and use of beeswax by bees and other animals.
  7. Bonus Feature: Interactive Marine Debris Game!

Follow the prompts in the interactive game below to learn about marine debris.

You may need to enable Flash, refresh, or change browsers to view the interactive feature below.

 

Note: If you cannot view the entire interactive on your screen, press Ctrl-Minus (-) on a PC and Command-Option-Minus (-) on a Mac to zoom out.

 

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Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.