The cover on “National Geographic” had a powerful artist rendering of an ocean iceberg, with a giant plastic bag hidden below the surface of the water. The magazine cover headlined: “Planet or Plastic? 18 billion pounds of plastic ends up in the ocean each year. And that’s just “ the tip of the iceberg.” Take a look at that edition of National Geographic (June 2018). If the article interests you, this is a course you will enjoy and learn from.
Our oceans are becoming landfills. The same thing is happening with rivers and streams. The plastic is not being dumped by ships and boats, it is mostly coming from litter on streets and beaches and sewage treatment plants. This is the water pollution and sustainability issue of our time.
In the next decade, there will be 1 pound of plastic in the ocean for every 3 pounds of fish. Plastic pollution is slowly coming into focus as a planetary crisis. Plastics are made from chemicals and oil and gas, linking the proliferation of plastics to climate change. World production of plastic has sky rocketed from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons in2015. Americans recycle less than 10% of plastics, so recycling is not the solution. Making less plastic will be the focus of this course. Upstream solutions will be carefully examined.
We will begin with some foundations: what are plastics and why are they so widely used? What is the life-cyle of plastic products? What alternatives exist? How are 700 fish and wildlife species (including turtles and whales and sea birds) impacted by plastic pollution? We will look at how consumers, governments and businesses are responding to this problem. The course will examine alternatives to single- use plastic packaging, what it takes to get consumers and companies to use less plastic and the long term environmental impacts of plastic pollution. Finally, you will choose a plastic reduction project you are inspired to work on.
Students will work alongside an experienced environmental advocate to advance a plastics reduction idea in the business, campus, community or government arena. For instance, you may choose to work on a local plastic bag ban or convince businesses to stop using plastic straws. Students will develop the skills necessary for moving a good idea into tangible actions and the adoption of new policies. We will use an interdisciplinary approach, making use of, among other fields, science, political science, writing and art. Finally, students will hone research, writing and social media skills so they can continue to affect positive change long after this course is over.