2019 The Secret Lives of Plastic Conference

The Secret Lives of Plastic: Materials, Recycling,
Oceans, & Communication

Corwin Pavilion
Tuesday April 30
2:00 – 9:00

Conference Themes

More and more people are becoming aware of plastics gyres and microplastics in the oceans, cities around the world are banning plastic bags and straws, and China has stopped accepting most of the world’s plastic for recycling. Scientists, policy-makers, municipalities, industries, and countries are struggling with the positive and negative implications of plastic. Topics include interdependencies and challenges in the life cycle of plastics, from design of materials, to uses, down- and up-recycling, energy and cost trade-offs, to pollution and ocean microplastics, sustainability, and communicating the issues. This event brings together experts from universities (administrators, science/social science/humanities professors), government, non-profit agencies, and industry, and presents a fascinating and troubling film, to discuss a variety of timely questions. 

The first three sessions focus on the world-class expertise in chemical engineering and sustainable chemistry, environmental studies and policy, waste management, and environmental communication, at UC Santa Barbara and in the Santa Barbara city and county.

The evening session is the story of the lifecycle of plastic, and its implications for the ocean, given the major emphasis on marine science at UCSB and the concern about ocean sustainability in the area and indeed the world. Recent reports and cutting-edge research explore the diffusion of plastics into and out of ocean gyres, the breakdown of plastics into microplastics in the water, the rise of the plastisphere as a new ocean ecology, the role of microplastics in spreading toxic chemicals and invasive species, the vast amount of plastic material that is dispersed into microparticles in the seabed and oceans, all with pervasive and long-term consequences for marine life as well as humans.

The website provides a diverse array of resources and participant video interviews. During the conference, and in the videos, participants will discuss their thoughts on the following questions:

  • What are advantages and disadvantages of plastic?
  • How are plastic and its alternatives designed, made, used, re-used, trashed, burned, recycled, and spread throughout the earth and oceans?
  • What do biodegradable, compostable, and sustainable actually mean?
  • How should we make economic and environmental tradeoffs between paper and plastic?
  • What are local agencies and industries doing about plastic recycling?
  • What should the general public know about plastic recycling?
  • How do, and should, we communicate about plastics and recycling?
  • What are scientific developments and innovations in plastic and alternative materials?
  • What are important legal and policy initiatives and challenges in managing plastics?

Click on the flyer or poster to download a .pdf document.

Organizers and Sponsors

Ronald E. Rice is the Arthur N. Rupe Professor in the Social Effects of Mass Communication, Department of Communication, with interests in environmental communication, among other topics.

Susannah Scott is Professor of Chemical Engineering, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Director of the Scott Laboratory, Mellichamp Cluster Chair in Sustainable Catalytic Processing, and Director of the Mellichamp Academic Initiative in Sustainability.

Event planning and administration:
Debbie Kleinpeter, California NanoSystems Institute
Britta Dysart, CMP, College of Engineering
Michelle Fredrich, Department of Communication

Help with resources, publicity, website:
Hallie Beyer, Department of Communication
Reese Ellestad, Department of Communication, UCSB Communication Association
Marilyn Dukes and ASPB students, Associated Students Program Board
Jiakai Sun, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

This event is a collaboration between, and funded by, The Arthur N. Rupe Biannual Conference and the Mellichamp Academic Initiative in Sustainability. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the Associated Students Program Board and the UCSB Communication Association.