Plastic Pollution

In the last few decades, we have increasingly come to recognize plastic pollution as an urgent global environmental challenge.

  • Plastics litter the oceans and land, affecting ecosystems and fauna
  • Microplastics have been found everywhere around us, including in our bodies—and even in the placenta of newborn babies
  • The endocrine disrupting chemicals added to plastics to make them more pliable affect human and animal hormonal systems

Nevertheless, our lives are entangled with plastics. Plastics are in our homes, cars, goods, packaging, makeup, and our hospitals and medical equipment, among a vast, vast array of other things. Imagining contemporary life being completely free of plastics is almost impossible.


How can humanities contribute to solving the problem

Solving the plastics “problem” is therefore not easy. The issue of plastic pollution is complex, and tackling it requires a systems approach and critical and problem-solving skills.

The problem of plastics is a sociotechnical issue—an issue linked to how a technological innovation gets translated into real-world settings and has societal consequences. Moreover, this is a global problem. Plastic production, use, and disposal are implicated in global flows, and plastic contamination therefore spills across borders. However, interventions must be adapted to local settings and local economic, political, sociocultural, and geographic contexts. There is no one-size fits all solution.

The humanities and social sciences are crucial to developing these skills and the global-yet-local perspectives. For example, at the India and South Asia program within the Department of Global Studies at Aarhus University, anthropological research examines, among other things, how plastic pollution is differently understood by different stakeholders, the implications—and unanticipated consequences—of various policy interventions to tackle it, and the open burning of plastic wastes as a toxic but often overlooked dimension of plastic pollution.

Such studies also aid transdisciplinary conversations between the social sciences and the natural and technical sciences to tackle the most harmful aspects of plastic production, use, and disposal.