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Biodegradable teaching unit 0809

Page history last edited by ecop 13 years, 10 months ago




A guide to Composting



 By: Liz



Description and Rationale


When looking around Manila I see lots of trash and pollution. I wonder if maybe it is possible that a lot of this trash could be either reused or recycled. It is possible that many Filipino’s simply do not know what types of trash could be recycled and what items of trash can not be.

I would like to come up with a simple way that local Filipino (especially the poor) can do to help slower the rate of the increasing land fills. In order to decrease the amount of land fills and trashing of the ocean and other natural areas we must figure out small things we can do that will make a difference. My idea is that if plastic bags and other containers that normally get thrown away are biodegradable. I would like to figure out a few containers that are biodegradable and encourage Filipino (especially the kids) to use the biodegradable bags.

In order to do this I will have to research what makes up biodegradable items. I think it is possible that some bags and containers that say they are biodegradable may not actually be quickly biodegradable.

I will be putting a few items in 6 different boxes that let air in, but do not let bugs in. I will be putting different types of containers like a plastic grocery bag, part of a Styrofoam cooler, and a Rubbermaid container. I would like to figure out simple ways that local people can help with the problem arising with all of the landfills.


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Common Names and Synonyms  

Zea mays is the scientific name for maize. Maize is the actual name for the American word corn. There are many types of corn, and each has different uses and different structures. In the Philippines sweet corn is grown the most—and sold as food. Mais is the local and common name for corn, or Zea maize  


Kingdom-Plantea (photosynthesis and has chlorophyll)

Phylum-Magnoliophyta (Is a flowering plant)

Class-Liliopsida (It is a monocot)

Order-Cyperales (contains only one unilocular ovary which ripens into an indeniscent fruit)

Family-Poaceae (Grass family, annual, has leaves that grow off a sheath, stem is hollow, parallel leaf venation)

Genus-Zea (Corn)

Species- Zea mays

Zea mays come from two different languages. Zea is Greek and is a common name for cereal and grains, and there are also scientists who believe that Zea also may mean “sustains life”. Mays is Taino, a language spoken by aboriginal people in Antilles. Mays means “life giver”. 


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Morphology and Physical Description


Most maize grows to be about 2.5 meters normally, although sweet corn is typically shorter. The lower leaves in a maize plant are broad (50-100 centimeters long, 5-10 centimeters wide). When the stems are at the highest point, they are typically around 2-3 meters, and have many nodes. There is a leaf at each node. The ears of corn grow under a leaf. A typical ear grows about 3 millimeters each day.

A plant is supported by prop roots, and has both male and female reproductive structures on the same plant. The stalk is the male reproductive structure, and the ear is the female reproductive structure. The ears are tightly surrounded my many layers of leaves. The silk (part of the ears, used in reproducing) looks like hair on a doll, and are green until they change into a pale yellow color. The highest point of the stem ends in the tassel. Each silk when pollinated creates one kernel of corn.

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Getting Food


Maize has been found to grow best in a warm, drained soil. It requires abundant moisture during the growing season. The most preferred pH in the soil has been found to be between 5.5 and 6.8. The richer the soil, the healthier the crop will grow. Sweet corn cannot tolerate frost, and thus it is very hard to grow in a non-tropical region.  

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Because Zea mays produce both male and female organs (pistils and stamens) on the same plant although different flowers, they are called monoecious plants. Male flowers are the tassels and grow in groups. Within the male flowers there are structures (anthers) that hold and make the pollen. Female flowers are always found in pairs, although once fertilized only one flower can grow and mature. When the plant has grown to the highest point, the male flowers release the pollen, and the female flowers produce silk (very thin ovary) that are grown from the husk. When pollen lands on the silks, the flower is then pollinated, and the pollen will take up to 25 hours to reach the micropyles.

Carbohydrates and other nourishments are provided to the plant when pollen particles go down through the plant. Each pollen particle has a nucleus, and two sperms. When the pollen reaches the micropyles one sperm fuses with a female egg thus creating an embryo. The other sperm fuses with a double nucleus to create an endosperm. The embryo is nourished by the endosperm when the seed is germinating. 

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Environmental Factors


There are many pests that can feed on or harm maize. A few include the Corn leaf aphid, the Corn silkfly, and in very few cases there have been cases in which the Western corn rootworm has been found in the Philippines to feed on corn.

There are a few diseases that come from maize including con smut (which in Mexico can be a prized delicacy to some), the grey leaf spots, and occasionally the stalk and kernel rot. There are over 200 diseases that can appear on corn, some not recognizable and can cause sickness to humans who eat the maize. 

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Origin and Distribution


There are different theories about how maize spread throughout the world. It is agreed that it originated in the Mexico (native to the Balsas River valley of southern Mexico).  Because it so often mutates into a different variation of Zea mays, it is hard to track where it first originated. Wild teosinte and sophisticated teosinte are believed to be the ancestors of the modern Zea mays.  It is estimated that as early as 1500 BC maize began spreading. As it was introduced in each culture new uses were found, and mutations started to occur. It is unknown how the plant first came to the Philippines, although it is suspected it has been here since 1500 BC. 

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Importance to People 

Zea mays can be used for a variety of different things. One of the most common ways to use sweet corn is for food. Seeds can be eaten raw or can be cooked. There are many variations to sweet corn that have been created to enhance and vary the taste. The seeds can be crushed and made into flour, or popped and make pop corn. Not only can the seed be eaten, but also the flowering part of the plant. Rich oil (corn oil) can be gathered from the seeds. It is very common oil when baking. The pollen can be used when making soup, and is very rich in protein. When the pollen is harvested it benefits the fertilization of seeds. The stem of the plant can be made into syrup or chewed as you would chew sugar cane. Seeds can also be used like coffee beans in making coffee.

Other than just food purposes there are some medicinal uses that corn provides. Boiling the cob can be useful in treating nose bleeds and menorrhagia. Strangury, dysuria and gravel can be partially treated by boiling the leaves and roots together. The corn silks can reduce the level of blood sugar, and can be useful in treating diabetes. The seed is used commonly in treating warts. It contains allantoin which is used in herbal medicine.

Corn is being used readily now as biofuel. There are stoves being sold that use corncobs, and companies have changed from using wood to corn cobs.

Even more uses such as making glue and cosmetics from the starch made in the seed, and an semi-drying oil that is used in making paints, varnishes, and soaps. Corn is commonly used as filler in plastic materials, and insulating materials. Because most of the plant is edible or can be used for a different reason, it is a very productive crop to grow in poor countries such as the Philippines. 

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Survivability and Endangered Status 

The corn plant has not become extinct, mainly due to the fact that so many people use the plant for feeding. There are many predators; thus farmers have found ways to genetically modify Zea mays so that there is little harm done, or a resistance to some pests. Zea mays have been so drastically modified, that it is very difficult for a plant to grow when not in the care of a farmer.                                                                                                                                                     main table of contents...


Potential Solutions  

After doing some research about the Philippines and talking to some local filiponos I realized how little informed people are about how much trash is building up not only in the philipines, but also around the world. I want to try and help the size of landfills, and teach people to take care of some of their own trash. The best way I have found to do manage your own trash is through a compost pile and recycling. I want to focus on a compost pile. Below are some ideas to inform people how to use a compost pile, and also how to make a compost pile. 

Possibility 1 -

1. Find a compost pile someone has started and look through to find what has been put in the pile and hasn’t biodegraded. There is a children’s home I often go to, and I would love to be able to have them help me look through and we can decide together what things have been put in the pile that don’t belong. Before going I would make a poster explaining what things should go in a compost pile and will biodegradable, and what type of things will not.


·         Teaching children things is a good way to try and make sure it is passed down among generations. Not only will the kids know what items can be decomposed, but also if they remember what I teach them they could tell others, and possibly when they get older their own families.

·         There is a children’s home that has already said it would be ok for me to come and tell the kids about some environmental issues. I know most of the kids, and they are all old enough to understand what I am talking about.

·         I love being and talking with kids, so it would feel natural to me, and I would have fun and I think if I was having fun it would thus allow the kids to have more fun.

·         Kids will remember stuff more if they had fun, and it is memorable. Because they are kids who don’t normally get to do very much if I could provide hands on activity I think they would remember the lesson I teach them.


·         I talked to the Children’s home leaders/owners and they said that there are not many kids at the moment.

·         Although kids can make a difference, most orphanages do not have compost piles. And if they do, its not the child’s responsibity to put stuff in it.

·         There is a large change of kids, so kids would have to be taught what was good and bad to put in the pile very often. It is possible that there would be lots of confusion.

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Possibility 2 -

2. The science department has several wooden boxes that have ventilation holes on top, and allow air to pass through and small bugs. These work well for watching items biodegrade over time. I could put 6 different types of Containers and bags each in a different box and watch what happens and then inform people through a poster or brochure about what types of containers and bags are good for the environment.


·         This provides solid proof, and is easy to tell what happens. People listen and will believe you more likely if you can give them the solid proof rather than just assumptions and guesses.

·         The boxes are already made, and have the right size holes so that large bugs and other disruptive things couldn’t get in, but small bacteria and molds that break down items could easily get in.


·         I would need several weeks to test and see what type of bags and containers are biodegradable. Because I had so much going on, I had very little time and then was not able to start the project early enough to get it started.

·         Though knowing what type of containers and bags biodegrade, much of the Philippines is very poor, and chooses the cheaper choice of most things. So I would thus have to talk to stores and suppliers and inform them, although they probably already know whether or not their bags and containers are biodegradable.



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Possibility 3 -


3. Find a compost pile someone has started and look through to find what has been put in the pile and hasn't biodegraded. After I have found a few things that don't belong in the pile I will make a brochure explaining why they don't belong in the pile, and also explain what makes an item biodegradable. There are many employees at faith and at our home (condominiums) that I could try and talk with about

When teaching people how to make a compost pile, and actually showing them what happens when things that are put in a compost pile but cannot biodegrade many people learned how easy, and productive it is. I made a brochure that let them know 4 easy steps to making a compost pile in the Philippines, and list of general things that should be put in a compost pile along with a list of what should not be put in a compost pile. I also added some questions that when asking local Filipinos asked when trying to figure out how much people already know. Pictures below show me getting the dirt, and pictures of some things that were good, and some things that were bad in the compost pile. No pictures were able to be taken when talking with the people, but I have put the brochure in the project. A worm i found in the compst pile                                                                                                                                      Picking up the Compost


·         Brochures are attractive, and easy to read.

·         Brochures can be used more than once, and if a person that reads it enjoys it, they can also be easily kept. They are small and thus if anyone wishes to keep them for future readings it isn't a great loss to me to give them out.

·         A brochure is easy to make, and can have pictures of what doesn't belong and be very visual.

·         Mrs. Hardeman has told me that I am welcome to come to her house and get some of the dirt from her compost pile. She told me that sometimes her helper doesn't know what type of things to put in the area, so Mrs. Hardeman told me I am sure to find a few things that haven't completely biodegraded.


·         A brochure cannot cover very much information. It would be hard to have detailed information about what can and can't belong. Also if someone reads through it and has questions there is no way for them to ask me a question.

·         Brochures take quite a bit of money to print, and i couldn't print very many. I could only make a few, and if it deemed to be a good source for how to do a compost pile maybe i could talk to someone who

·         It is hard to get people to listen to you talk about something. It is easier if it is more arranged, and they know about you talking with them before. So by having just a brochure it would be less formal, and people may not listen as well.

·         It is harder for me to talk with older people, I would much rather talk with children and teach them a hands-on something they can do rather than just tell them something.

Possible Future actions

            When talking with people from the Condos, I realized that it is very hard to have a compost pile in one of our houses. One of ladies I was talking to asked if it would be possible to maybey start a compost pile here at the condos. There is a very large forest area right where all the cars are parked near the front door to the building. It would not be hard to start a compost pile that is a community effort. I could be the person responsible for turning the compost pile and airing it out, but I think if I posted a sign saying what to put in, and what should not be put in the compost pile it would work well. I hope to start the compost pile this summer. Right now I do not have the money, or the time to make a large compost pile. It may even be possible to sell or give away the compost we create. There is very little use for such good soil where I live due to the fact that there Is nowhere for us to grow anything. It is possible that if we could sell some compost we could buy plastic compost piles that have lids on them for each floor, or even every other floor so people do not have to take their trash all the way out the building, for someone who lives in either the basement or the top floors, and not near the elevator it could become a hassle.

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Future, joining Friends of Plants For A. "Zea mays." ibiblio in space. 3 May 2009 <http://www.ibiblio.org/pfaf/cgi-bin/arr_html?Zea+mays>.

Gibson, Lance, and Gary Benson. "Origin, History and Uses of Corn." Department of Agronomy - Iowa State University. 3 May 2009 <http://www.agron.iastate.edu/courses/agron212/Readings/Corn_history.htm>.


"Guide to Composting." Garden Guides. Online. 2009 <http://www.gardenguides.com/how-to/tipstechniques/planning/compost.asp#morebelow> 3 May 2009.


Ashen, Jon. Personal Interview. 2 May 2009.

Knudsen, Ashley. "Reproduction/Adaptations." BioWeb Home. 3 May 2009 <http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2008/knudsen_ashl/reproduction.htm>.

"Maize." Wikipedia. 3 May 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maize>.

Owen, Marion. "163 things you can compost." 1996. 3 May 2009 <http://www.plantea.com/compost-materials.htm>.


Bettelheim, A., 2006. Biofuels Boom. Pages 793-816. CQ Researcher. CQ Press. Washington D.C., U.S.A.




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