Date of Award

January 2020

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Justice Studies

First Advisor

Avi Brisman

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies

Second Advisor

Betsy Matthews

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies

Third Advisor

William McClanahan

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies


The majority of plastic exists in a linear economy, wherein a product is developed with raw materials, used, and then discarded. Because there are many applications for plastic in today’s society unparalleled by alternative materials, removing all or most plastic use from daily life in the United States is unrealistic. Nevertheless, eliminating single-use plastics and improving recycling are reasonably attainable goals.

This thesis offers a detailed discussion of the origins of plastic, including its discovery, initial applications, and growth in the United States. Against this backdrop, this thesis then examines how various nonhuman animal species and ecosystems have been negatively impacted by excessive human consumption and improper disposal of plastic. Given the ostensibly endless applications for plastic, this thesis concludes by considering how we might discontinue its use at present levels