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Accepted Paper:

“I can’t buy anything without thinking about it”: responsibility and household responses to plastic saturation in Uruguay and the UK  
Patrick O'Hare (University of St Andrews)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores everyday beliefs and actions involving plastics in Cambridge and Montevideo. It highlights how the avoidance of littering continues to dominate ideas of good plastic conduct in Uruguay, while appropriate ethical plastic behaviour includes consumption, use and disposal in the UK.

Paper long abstract:

Enthusiastic calls to ‘tackle the plastics problem’ often conjure societies that are ‘in it together’, flattening out responsibility and ignoring entrenched power dynamics. The current plastics zeitgeist is characterised by concern and experimentation at legislative, scientific, commercial, and household levels yet often without challenging underlying logics and mechanisms of production and consumption. This paper explores everyday beliefs and actions involving plastics in Cambridge (England) and Montevideo (Uruguay). Research was conducted with ten households in each city and additional ethnographic research was carried out with volunteer repair and clean-up groups. Research participants were asked to keep a ‘plastics diary’ detailing consumption, use, and disposal of plastic as I sought to understand how plastic has been problematised in each site and where the locus of responsibility for problem solving was situated. In both sites, research participants differentiated between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ plastics, with the material properties that distinguished good plastic products – e.g. durability and strength – often the same that cause problems when they are released into (marine) environments. Yet while in Montevideo plastic was often framed as an aesthetic-environmental problem of littering, in Cambridge ideas of appropriate ethical behaviour around plastics were dispersed over a range of consumption and disposal activities, including avoidance, sharing, and recycling. The paper explores whether this difference was due to the greater availability of infrastructures for non-plastic consumption and recycling in the UK or whether Montevideans were more inclined to direct the blame for plastic pollution at wider structures beyond the unit of household consumption.

Panel Evid03c
Intractable plastic: responsibilities in ‘plasticized’ worlds III
  Session 1 Friday 2 April, 2021, -