97 Alice Mah – unpicking plastics propaganda
IT’S EPISODE 97, and today we’ll be talking about plastics, a familiar circular economy topic, from someone with a someone with a less familiar background… Alice Mah is Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick, in the UK, and she’ll help us unpick the propaganda about plastics and their role in a circular economy
I came across Alice’s work when IEMA’s Transform magazine interviewed her about her latest book, Plastic Unlimited: How Corporations are Fuelling the Ecological Crisis and What We Can Do About It. I’m a member of IEMA, which is the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. Alice unpacked some of the ways the plastics industry is trying to improve our perception of plastics, including how it tries to reframe the circular economy as a recycling issue. She highlighted other worrying aspects of how the petrochemicals industry is operating, and we’ll hear some of those.
Spookily, a few weeks later, on the same day I’d emailed Alice to invite her on, I was in the kitchen half-listening to BBC Radio 4’s sociology programme, Thinking Allowed, and up popped Alice, being interviewed about the ways the plastic industry uses its corporate power to influence our thinking around plastics.
Alice Mah holds a PhD in Sociology from the London School of Economics and was Principal Investigator of the large-scale European Research Council project “Toxic Expertise: Environmental Justice and the Global Petrochemical Industry” from 2015-2020. Her research focuses on environmental justice, corporate power, and the politics of green industrial transformations. Her next book the is Petrochemical Planet: Multiscalar Battles of Industrial Transformation.
In today’s conversation, I’ve asked Alice to help bust some myths around plastics and their potential role in a circular economy…
Myth #1 Plastics can support a Net Zero economy
Myth #2 Plastics are safe – in other words, it’s wrong to link plastics to health issues
Myth #3 Plastics are essential for our quality of life
Myth #4 Exporting plastic waste to low-income countries helps the country, and/or the local people, create value from that plastic
Myth #5 Plastic recycling can play an important role in the circular economy.