Multisector Mitigation of Plastic Pollution: Approaches from Biology, Policy, Law and Industry

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Plastic pollution is ubiquitous in the ocean. Researchers are actively determining how plastic pollution harms marine animals and which measures should be used to reduce pollution. I use the four pathways to global sustainability (created by Folke et al., 2021) as a guiding framework for this dissertation because this framework outlines how society can develop sustainable practices to address environmental challenges, in this case, plastic pollution. I identify risks posed by plastic pollution to marine animals and characterize government and corporate responses to plastic pollution. My overarching goal is to use these results to inform stakeholders of gaps or mismatches in plastics governance and chart a path toward global plastics sustainability. In Chapter 1, I investigate plastic consumption in marine animals, using the sea anemone as a model animal. I find that anemones readily consume plastic (polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride) pellets and can extract metallic additives, specifically lead and tin, from plastic. More broadly, this research suggests that plastic pollution may be a novel pathway for heavy metals to enter the marine food web. In Chapter 2, I examine government responses to plastic pollution by qualitatively analyzing public policies at all levels of government, from local to international, adopted between the years 2000 and 2019. I show that governments are increasingly adopting policies over time. Policies frequently target plastic bags and macroplastics and infrequently target microplastics. In Chapter 3, I qualitatively analyze voluntary commitments to reduce plastic pollution made by the world’s largest companies. I report that most companies are aware of the unsustainability of plastic and responding, albeit insufficiently given the scope of the challenges. Company commitments often lack concrete deadlines and frequently focus on recycling, despite low global recycling rates, which obscures corporate accountability. In Chapter 4, I provide insight into the role that emerging technologies may play in plastics sustainability. I synthesize literature on the use of plastic waste in road construction and highlight key knowledge gaps such as plastic additive leaching, microplastic and nanoplastic generation, and road recyclability at end-of-life. The dissertation closes with Chapter 5, which summarizes articles from the special issue “Emerging Challenges and Solutions to Plastic Pollution,” published in Frontiers in Marine Science, and contextualizes my dissertation findings in the broader scientific literature. I close Chapter 5 by synthesizing key dissertation findings and suggesting areas of future research. I highlight that societal responses to plastic pollution have not prioritized addressing the plastics that pose the greatest risks to aquatic ecosystems, resulting in negative environmental consequences. This dissertation contributes to the field by demonstrating the harms posed by plastic pollution to sea anemones and qualitatively characterizes public and private sector measures aiming to reduce plastic pollution. More broadly, I highlight the role of interdisciplinary research in environmental problem-solving and charting a path toward global plastics sustainability.





Diana, Zoie Taylor (2023). Multisector Mitigation of Plastic Pollution: Approaches from Biology, Policy, Law and Industry. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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