Power and Politics in Plastics Research: A Critique of ‘Whither Plastics? Petrochemicals, Plastics and Sustainability in a Garbage-riddled World

Bregje van Veelen, Jacob Hasselbalch

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The article ‘Whither Plastics? - Petrochemicals, plastics and sustainability in a garbage-riddled world’ discusses a number of recent issues around plastics, including plastics’ dependence on fossil fuels, its contribution to ocean waste, and its possible impact on human health [M. Jefferson, “Whither plastics? - Petrochemicals, plastics and sustainability in a garbage-riddled world,” Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 56 (2019)]. Despite these multiple ways in which plastics are framed as (potentially) problematic, the author is clear in his recommendations: the most important form of action is behavioural change. While we strongly welcome social science research into plastics, we have several issues with the study in question which we deem significant enough for us to write this response. At the heart of our concern is the paper's handling of extant research. There are three aspects to our critique: (1) conflations and misrepresentations of the data presented; (2) disregard of academic social science research on plastics; and (3) the resultant promotion of over-simplistic solutions to a complex set of problems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101445
JournalEnergy Research & Social Science
Number of pages3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

Published online 16 January 2020


  • Plastics
  • Waste
  • Behaviour change
  • Social theory
  • Methods
  • Knowledge politics

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