About this Research Topic
The Plastics Problem, our inaugural series, will focus on the following themes:
- Plastic Waste Management Strategies for Circular Economy
- Pathways towards Sustainable Solutions Against Plastic Pollution
- Engineering Solutions and Material Innovation for Plastic Waste Prevention
The urgent need to tackle plastic pollution is undeniable. The rate of plastic production has been growing since its mass production began in the mid-1940s. To date, it is estimated that more than a cumulative 8,300 million metric tons (Mt) of virgin plastics have been produced, resulting in 6,300 Mt of plastic waste. Over half of this plastic waste has entered the environment. River discharges and mismanaged waste have largely contributed to plastic waste entering the oceans, where it persists as marine plastic pollution, causing negative environmental impacts from macro to nano.
The growing efforts from different modeling and simulation studies on how plastic pollution changes in the long run reveal two common findings. First, all business-as-usual scenarios project an increase in plastic waste. Second, reducing plastic waste requires unprecedented effort, ultimately involving systems-level changes to transform the global plastic economy and combining commonly proposed approaches for plastics governance. Furthermore, as research suggests technological solutions alone are insufficient to adequately manage plastics, it is time to implement measures regarding non-technological solutions, including changing behavior from the industry level to the individual. Achieving these necessary behavior changes will require policy interventions, which may focus on regulating plastics or may address other factors influencing plastic pollution, such as education or corruption. Crucial questions remain about the scale, content, implementation, and effectiveness of such policy interventions.
Recent research highlights barriers to ecological behaviors for individuals and approaches to alleviate them. For example, studies on educational barriers and learning opportunities show that individuals require a minimum knowledge of the topic in order to handle contrasting information and to modify their daily way of life in favor of ecological behaviors. They also show the kinds of educational and learning approaches that are most effective at encouraging ecological behaviors.
The goal of this research topic is based on non-technological approaches to address plastic pollution. What interventions (eg., policies, education, social pressure, etc.) can change individuals' behaviors? What interventions, from policymakers or other sectors of society, can change industry behavior? What is the socio-economic feasibility of the proposed intervention measures? What are barriers (e.g., economic, political, educational, psychological, cognitive, etc.) to the desirable behaviors needed to achieve sustainable plastic governance, from production to use to disposal?
Negative interactions between a suite of barriers remain to be studied. In some countries, it has been shown that more environmental knowledge might lead to less ecological behavior, especially when waste collection, reuse or recycling facilities are not available. Some publications that focus on economic barriers and opportunities suggest that economic growth is required to increase investment in waste treatment facilities. However, other studies suggest economic growth appears to contradict or even threaten planetary boundaries. Further research is required to reconcile these perspectives.
We invite studies focusing on primarily non-technological approaches to reducing plastic pollution, which may incorporate technological innovations. We accept various types of articles (see Article Types on the journal homepage) employing a broad range of methods focused in the following areas (non-exhaustive list):
• Behavioral approaches (e.g., neuroscience, psychology, sociology, behavioral economics);
• Conventional economic measures (e.g., market-based, rights-based);
• Global, regional, national, and local policies aiming for zero plastic waste
• Evidence-based policymaking (EBPM) (e.g., Life Cycle Assessment, cost-benefit analysis);
• Governance (e.g., collective action, community-based resource management, civic ecology);
• Regulation (e.g., national laws, international treaties);
• Model and simulation analysis involving socio-economic dimensions;
• Environmental education and education for sustainable development (ESD).
Keywords: Barriers, behavioral sciences, choice architecture, environmental education, education for sustainable development, experiment, governance, intervention measures, modeling and simulation, nudge, stated preference method
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.