Climate justice for the next generation
Climate justice for the next generation

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5 Plastic childhoods

While climate change – its impact on the earth’s temperature and the subsequent consequences of that – has been the focus of protests by young activists such as Greta Thunberg, other young people have focused their protests and campaigns on other forms of environmental damage.

An obvious example of environmental damage is the use of single-use plastics by richer countries of the world. Images of marine life swallowing and choking on plastics have been hugely influential and have come to symbolise the damage done to the ocean environment by human carelessness and poor stewardship of the natural world. These have drawn significant responses from young people. In India, for example, 14-year-old student Aditya Mukarji launched a campaign against plastic straws after seeing a video of two vets trying to remove a plastic straw from a turtle’s nose. Since 2018 when he first started to campaign, Aditya has helped replace more than 500,000 plastic straws in restaurants and hotels.

In the next activity you will explore the impact of plastics on children’s lives in more detail.

Described image
Figure 11 Young environmental activists are also campaigning to reduce the use of single-use plastics.

Activity 8

Timing: Allow 15 minutes

Earlier in this course you heard Peter Kraftl talk about children and young people’s environmental activism. In the audio that follows you will hear him talk about the research he carried out between 2018 and 2020 as a Leverhulme Research Fellowship on a project called ‘Plastic childhoods’.

This phrase ‘plastic childhoods’ immediately conjures up images of damage and waste but in his research Kraftl focuses on the wider, and more nuanced, impacts of plastics on children’s lives. He focuses on the different ways in which plastics appear, travel through and disappear in children's lives, and also considers the ways in which plastics evade human control and how they appear in the environment at many different scales from the global right down to the microscopic and the nanoscopic.

In his research, Kraftl argues that while children often express hostility towards plastic waste and want to see an end to it, they also acknowledge plastics can be useful and necessary and it is too simplistic to ban all plastics from children’s lives. He emphasises the importance of listening to children’s views and allowing them to develop their own ideas about how they wish to use plastics

Listen to the audio then answer the question that follows.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: audio_2_plastic_childhoods.mp3
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Which of the following statements is not true?


Plastics can be used both negatively and positively in children’s lives


The project used many different methods, including biological sampling and social media


Plastics pose no risk to children


Plastics, and their impacts on the environment, are a source of concern to many children.

The correct answer is c.

While many of us might have a rather simplistic reaction to the idea of plastic childhoods – and think about the large amount of plastic waste we accumulated as children or our children accumulate – Kraftl’s work goes beyond this. He looks at the ways ‘micro’ plastics enter children’s bodies as well as how the ‘macro’ plastic waste in the ocean affects children. His work draws on human geography, anthropology and sociology, and also on children’s own views and ideas and the ways they differentiate between good and bad plastic.

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