Plastic Archeology Crash Course

A report on the plastic archeology workshop held for a group of design students from Shanghai

On the 29th of April, Elisha who is WASTED’s education and community development officer hosted a Plastic Archeology Crash Course for a group of design students from Shanghai. The students are touring the Netherlands in order to get in touch with circular initiatives. The workshop was made up of two parts. In the Plastic Archeology Crash Course participants were first asked to explore and distinguish different types of plastic. We introduced the students to the six main plastics being utilized and discussed the plastics varying levels of harm and why they are still being used. For example No3 Polyvinyl chloride is particularly toxic and No6 Polystyrene is nearly impossible to recycle. Other plastics however, if treated properly can be recycled relatively easily. The purpose of this was to familiarise the students with the variety of different plastic types. This served as a platform for further conversation about the complexity of the plastic problem and how we might be able to solve it.


The second part of the workshop was more creative. We asked the students to think of a problem in their home city or town that could be solved by recycling. The students came up with some really novel and interesting ideas.  Being designers, some of the students mapped their thoughts with pictures rather than words which was a different and enjoyable way of thinking to observe. One such idea was recyclable sleeves for phones. The students said that phone cases are considered a bit of a fashion accessory in Shanghai and people tended to change their phone cases regularly. The purpose of the workshop was to get the students thinking creatively about sustainability, to highlight certain issues and to connect some of the large issues and concepts that emerged during the workshop with their local environment.

Addressing sustainability and environmental issues through fun, flexible and creative workshops like this is massively important. There are two main types of engagement that can then lead to pro environmental behaviour. Cognitive engagement, which would include providing people with the facts and explaining exactly why it is so important for them to live and act in certain ways. The second type of engagement is emotional engagement. Emotional engagement is important because knowledge is affected my social factors such as personal experiences and relevance. It is important to engage people emotionally and build those connections and experiences that are going to help people live and behave in ways that are more sustainable. Gould who was a paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science put it well when he said “we cannot win the battle to save species and environment without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well—for we will not fight in order to save what we do not love” (1994, p. 44).


The workshop was an enjoyable day and acted as cultural exchange between the Shanghai students and ourselves. We thoroughly look forward to conducting more workshop like this in the future.


Gould, S., 1994. Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History. W.W. Norton, New York.


Created on 08 May 2018
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