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New discussion paper: “Plastics in the environment – Perspectives from the Social Sciences“

© Volodymyr Hryshchenko

In recent years, the subject of plastics has been increasingly discussed in society. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has therefore launched the research initiative “Plastics in the environment – Sources. Sinks. Solution Approaches”. Social science approaches are linked with natural and technical science projects. As part of the initiative, Ruth Müller, Associate Professor of Science & Technology Policy at TUM, was the lead author of the recent discussion paper that outlines social science perspectives on plastics in the environment.

The discussion paper considers plastic as a central component of everyday life – not only in the Global North, but also far beyond. In dealing with this versatile material, according to the paper, the complex social interrelationship of plastic with our living environments must also be taken into account. Technical innovations in this field can therefore only be used sustainably if they are adequately integrated into social contexts. According to the scientists, this requires changes in social routine, norms and values.

According to the discussion paper, the responsibility for reducing the use of plastic in our societies and environments cannot be outsourced to individual consumers, who are often asked to solve the problem by avoid plastic through changing their everyday shopping practices. Any effective solution requires significant changes in the actions of various actors in industry, politics and society. The authors therefore recommend new forms of political regulation on national and international levels . Such regulations should not be limited to the late phase of the lifecycle of plastics, but should rather consider the entire lifecycle of the material. Importantly, any solutions must always be both technically and socially feasible and sustainable.

The complete paper by Professor Müller and her co-authors can be found here. More information on Prof. Müller’s research within the BMBF initiative can be found here https://www.mcts.tum.de/en/research/plastics-publics-politics/

Professor Ruth Müller  (b. 1981) joined TUM in 2015 as a professor in the interdisciplinary field of Science & Technology Studies (STS), which explores the relationship between science, technology and society. She is originally trained in Molecular Biology and holds a Sociology from the University of Vienna, Austria. She has been a visiting researcher at the University of California Santa Cruz, US, and a postdoc researcher at Lund University, Sweden. Her work explores the nexus of science, technology, society & policy, with a particular focus on the life and environmental sciences.

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