Using plastic pollution as a case study, this article shows how the material characteristics of objects – their density, their size, and the strength of their molecular bonds, among other traits – are central to their agency. The author argues that it is crucial to attend to the physical characteristics of matter if we, as researchers, are going to describe problems and contribute to solutions for ‘bad actors’ like pollutants. Plastics and their chemicals are challenging regulatory models of pollution, research methods, and modes of action because of their ubiquity, longevity, and scale of production. This article investigates how scientists researching plastic pollution are attempting to create a new model – or models – of pollution that account for the unpredictable and complex materialities of 21st-century pollutants, and how the Anthropocene has come to be a shorthand for our material understandings of moral transgressions, cherished boundaries, and good citizenship.
Max Liboiron, Journal of Material Culture, vol. 21, no. 1, p. 87-110, March 2016