Plastic pollution in communities, waterways and oceans is often characterized as a wicked problem. Estimates suggest at least 11 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste enter the oceans annually, negatively impacting both marine ecosystems and potentially public health. Scholars have suggested that plastics can be considered a persistent organic pollutant, because once in the environment plastic waste does not readily degrade, but instead, generates smaller microplastics and nanoplastics. Plastics have been found in the deep sea, the atmosphere, in Arctic sea ice, and in human blood, placenta, and feces, with exposures disproportionately identified in lower-income communities and countries.
Leakage into the environment can occur at every stage of the plastics life cycle, from the production of petro-chemicals that become plastic products, to consumption and ultimately disposal, requiring solutions from a wide range of actors, from policy makers, private companies, communities and researchers, to name a few.
The Nicholas Institute is working with partner organizations to help identify how decision makers on the local, national, and international levels have responded to this challenge at every stage of the life cycle of plastics, and to understand which responses have been most effective at achieving pollution reduction and linked socioeconomic goals.