Plastic Citizen
Ongoing Project

Plastic Citizen: Shaping the Future

The Plastic Citizen project encourages young people to consider how they and the world around them interacts with single-use plastics.

Project summary

The Challenge

The project aimed to encourage young people to develop a critical inquiry approach to how plastics are viewed, used and disposed of in our society.

The Approach

Involve young people in various participatory research activities including future-mapping; interpretive focus groups and digital storytelling.

The Outcome

Young participants increased as a result of their involvement in the planning, design and implementation of their own Citizen Inquiry research.

Lead researchers

Funded by

Project partners

The Challenge

The Plastic Citizen project explored young people’s perception of what they felt were the key issues in the circular plastics economy.

The project encouraged young people to look at how they and the world around them interacts with single-use plastics and to identify what single-use plastic products they and their communities used.

The project aimed to encourage young people to develop a critical inquiry approach to how plastics are viewed, used and disposed of in our society.

Over 200 young people took part. They explored what plastic products are made of and how to identify different forms of plastic. Then began to question how and why we use plastic – considering how some can be harmful and whether the benefits of using plastics outweigh the cost to the environment.

“I always knew that climate change was happening but it didn’t really matter to me until I came here and found out more.”

Young members of the Youth Climate Council, Bremerhaven, Germany

The Approach

We involved young people in various participatory research activities including future-mapping; interpretive focus groups and digital storytelling. All of these were centred around a citizen-inquiry based approach that focused on young people as researchers. The intention was that these inquiry tools, once tested and refined, would be transferable and could be applied across different disciplines.

Young people involved in the Plastic Citizen project for facilitating learning around the Circular Plastics Economy.

We led a trial of ‘nquire’ – an Open University digital research platform based on Citizen Science methodology – as part of the project. Using nquire, young people were responsible for the design of their ‘mission’. The mission was chosen by one of the groups we worked with (The International Pupil Council) was to collate and categorise single-plastic use and attitudes to/ knowledge around recycling in the city of Hull.

Plastic Citizen R+R+R+Rap

Our transdisciplinary approach involved working closely with colleagues from across the University including Politics, Chemical Engineering, Drama and Digital Media departments. We also initiated and developed strong relationships with a wide variety of formal and informal education settings across Hull.

We developed a strong link with schools and youth groups in Bremerhaven, Germany building on established contacts made by Professor Rudi Wurzel (Department of Politics). Through this partnership, we facilitated several workshops with primary and secondary schools and met with the Bremerhaven Council for Climate Change and the Youth Climate Council to share young person centered approaches to the circular plastics economy.

The Impact

The level of environmental agency experienced by the young participants increased as a result of their involvement in the planning, design and implementation of their own Citizen Inquiry research projects.

Evidence has also shown that the level of investment and involvement by young people in informal, rather than formal, education settings appears to be higher. This may be due to the aspect of voluntary and therefore self-directed participation that young people in informal education settings – such as youth projects and youth councils – demonstrate in these settings.

Recycling Ranger App

A range of resources produced by the young participants were warmly welcomed by the teachers and other educators who took part in the project – with environmental concerns and climate change being identified as area they had limited teaching and learning resources in. Some of these resources are also being distributed by the Royal Geographical Society as part of their resource bank for secondary and tertiary education teachers.

Digital technology played an important role in engaging the young participants with the project. Using a variety of digital tools to initiate their inquiries, the participants created e-books, an animated film, an educational app, educational games and resources plus online surveys.

Next stage

The project trialled the use of Citizen Inquiry as a methodology to engage young people in solution-focused approaches to environmental issues and concerns. This approach proved extremely successful, particularly in engaging those young people who are often deemed ‘hard to reach’ and may not have usually engaged in environmental/scientific based projects.

Funding applications have been submitted to various bodies in order to continue and extend this research approach.

As part of the project some of the young participants designed an app to educate and engage primary school children in the issues related to the circular plastics economy. Funding has now been sourced to bring the prototype to full production as a fully functioning app which will be available on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

Associated project publications/outputs

Burden, K., Dean, C., James, F. & Wurzel, R. (2020) Engaging Young People in the Circular Plastics Economy using Citizen Inquiry Methodologies and Creative Participatory Research Methods Creative Circular Economy Approaches to Eliminate Plastic Waste.