SCI1430 Plastic Planet

This course explores materials science and solid-state chemistry through the lens of plastics and their environmental and social impacts. The world is creating plastic materials at a staggering rate, with annual global production approaching 400 million tonnes. While plastics play critical roles in health, food packaging, transportation, and construction, the exponential demand for plastics raises significant questions about the human and ecosystem impacts of polymeric materials. For example, only small fractions of plastics are recycled, and recent policy shifts have left many countries struggling to manage their plastics waste streams. Through a series of self-directed team projects, students in this class will explore technical and contextual issues related to plastics processing, use, and disposal, such as the rise of single-use plastics, toxic chemicals and pollutants from polymer synthesis, biodegradation and recycling, life-cycle assessment of plastics versus alternative materials, and larger systemic challenges associated with the plastics industry. The course takes place in a studio-laboratory setting, where teams will implement and troubleshoot project plans, apply a range of materials testing and analytical techniques, and conduct research and reporting that enables critical thinking and reflection on the benefits and consequences of plastics technologies.