EGMT 1540: Plastic Everywhere

Years Offered: 
Quarter Offered: 
Day | Time: 
TR 2:00pm - 3:15pm
Session: 
Fall Quarter One: August 24 – October 13
Years Offered: 
Quarter Offered: 
Day | Time: 
TBD
Session: 
Spring Quarter Three: January 19 – March 15
“There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it.” This line from the 1967 film The Graduate captured 20th century promise surrounding this new class of flexible materials. Derived from the Greek plastikos, to mold or form, plastics freed design from the constraints of natural materials. First derived from and imitating biological materials, then later made from petrochemicals seemingly untethered from nature in manner and form, polymeric materials represented a new kind of freedom and flexibility. Over time, plastics became so prevalent in nearly every aspect of life—food, clothing, shelter, high performance materials, medicine, and devices—that we barely notice them. That is, until recently, when their burgeoning waste and ubiquity have become cause for growing alarm: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Mae West the synched-waisted snapping turtle, dead fish and birds’ bellies swelled with plastic mistaken for food; microparticles in our waterways from personal care products and laundry microfibers, and in the Alps and Arctic snow by air; in our soil, food, bottled water, bodies and more. Additionally, plastic chemicals—certain monomers, additives and solvents—can be toxic, causing endocrine disruption impacting metabolism, brain function, sexual development and fertility, and other diseases. Some communities are impacted more than others, particularly industrial fence-line communities dubbed sacrifice zones or countries flooded with waste. But with plastics detected in remote locations and chemicals accumulating in our bodies, it seems that no one, nowhere is immune. How did this happen? What can we do about it? Is recycling the answer, bans on single use plastic, plastic bags and straws? Or degradable and renewable materials? These questions and more will be explored in Plastic Everywhere. Human intersections with plastic lifecycles will be investigated from individual, community, and global perspectives, across macro, micro and molecular scales. The ethics of extraction and disposability, environmental health and justice, and sustainability and stewardship will be considered.