Has the famous utopian vision of Yarsley and Couzen become reality? – Two British chemists forecasted the vision of a „plastic man, a character who lives in the glorious plastic age of colour and bright shining surfaces“, as early as 1941. This vision was basically limited to polymer chemists, but was seized by popular culture, an example being the comic-strip hero “Plastic Man” which was originally published in the same year.
Seventy-five years later, the utopian vision somehow turned into reality. However, our world now seems to become more of a dystopia of a plastic waste planet than “a world free from moth and rust and full of colour”. So we might have to ask if the power of Plastic man is only one side of the coin.
Our junior research group PlastX aims to address this ambivalence of plastics taking different angels and disciplines into consideration with the focus of this sub-project on the sustainability of plastic packaging. In this approach, the sub-project “packaging and sustainable consumption” zooms into interconnections between practices of production and consumption in the Food Supply System, asking for the specific importance of plastics in these interconnected practices. Therefore, we are investigating everyday habits of food consumption and show their embedment in modern life.
These questions provide the foundation for a comprehensive analysis of the social significance and persistence of plastic packaging. Furthermore, they help to generate knowledge that could be translated into a suite of recommendations for public‐ and private‐sector decision‐makers to reduce plastic packaging in the food sector.
To capture the mental and material dimensions of practices concerning the creation, usage, and disposal of plastic packaging we adopt a practice‐theory approach. Practice Theory captures social practices as basic unit of analyses, defining them as routinized types of behavior, which consist of several interconnected elements, namely norms of mental and bodily activities, ‘things’ and their use, background knowledge and skills, and associated meaning. Consequently, the handling of ‘things’ such as plastic food packaging is considered to be shaped by tacit knowledge as well as skills and meanings that are taken for granted. Practices are both reproduced and changed through their everyday enactment by a large number of people, or ‘practitioners’. In the Food Supply System practitioners are consumers and producers of food as well as retailers, politicians or environmentalists. Empirical investigations include literature and quantitative data as well as qualitative interviews, observations and focus group discussions.
This sub-project will be performed at the ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research in Frankfurt.
Lukas Sattlegger is working on this sub-project.
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