Skip to main navigation menu Skip to main content Skip to site footer

How plastic is our plastic culture? Reducing our consumption of single-use plastics


Our deep attachment to plastics exists within a complex set of relationships between manufacturers, consumers, markets, and environmental forces. In this paper, I question the reasons behind these relationships and seek to discover why we have become so attached to plastics, and why it is so hard to break this attachment. The effects of plastics extend far beyond the issue of litter, but relate to our construction of identity and our sense of social justice. In this paper, I will argue that plastic is reflective of who we are, and also reflective of the global inequalities we have created and is thus an important social justice issue. I will employ the theory of political ecology to analyze the consumption of single-use plastics within industrialized countries and to untangle these complex relationships. This theory will highlight the influence of finance and power and help to unravel the role of industry and institutions in the seemingly agential decisions we make as consumers. I will then discuss why the plastics problem is so pressing, and why we need to change our culture of single-use plastics. The issue of single-use plastics has widespread global effects, and thus solving the plastics problem is a matter of social justice. I will then apply a political ecological framework to argue that single-use plastics are an integral part of consumer culture, and lie at the core of our identity as a society. Finally, I will turn to the question of how and if our plastic culture is capable of changing.