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Design Research Graduate Student Presents Thesis at Sustainability Conference

Nicolas St. Angelo

January 29, 2019

Nicholas St. Angelo, a graduate student in the Drexel University Design Research program, presented his thesis at the Fifteenth International Conference on Environmental, Cultural, Economic & Social Sustainability in Vancouver, Canada this past January. St. Angelo was awarded the International Travel Grant from Drexel’s Office of International Programs and traveled to Vancouver to present his work, “Evolution of Plastic and Its Detriment to the Environment,” during the poster/exhibit session. A synopsis of St. Angelo’s thesis is below.

Although plastic has been around for many decades it is just now becoming a problem brought to people’s attention. Plastic started small in the early 1950s and has grown in production into the billions. Many people rely on plastic for everyday use for items such as plastic water bottles, plastic bags, and plastic straws. The problem is people do not know how much of a detriment this causes to the environment. Besides the environment, plastic has an effect on our health, the policy that’s put into place, and the cost of our products we use every day. Throughout time we have made quite a few technology advances or workarounds for plastic, but none of them have been reproduced at a large scale. The products that we use today can take upwards of one thousand years to vanish from our planet. In the United States alone we produce over sixteen million tons of plastic every year. Part of the reason why not much change happens around plastic is because of the setbacks we face through policy. There are big corporations such as the Water Bottle Association and the Plastic Association that control politicians decisions. These big companies feel that they will lose business and eliminating plastic will be an impairment to the economy. We need to implement a solution at a community level for everyone to be engaged in, but even more importantly for the Gen Z and Millennials of our society.

Of all the products being produced, there is a large majority that becomes mismanaged trash and ends up in the wrong receptacle. We need to educate the public to inform them about the decisions they make and the consequences their decisions have on the environment. Furthermore, we need to teach them alternatives that are better suited for the environment than plastic. My plan of action is to create an experience that the public can be engaged in that is not like a typical textbook/classroom learning situation. In the beginning stages, we need to create an ecosystem of interactions to draw the users in to be engaged with the learning process. First and foremost, we need to capture their attention through media outlets that resonate well and bring in a high volume of users. One part of the ecosystem consists of creating an application that answers the questions the public has, in real time, about what can and cannot be recycled. After the app has been implemented for an ample amount of time, some feedback that can be acquired could be information on commonly searched questionable recycling items. Using this information, we can form future signage and advertisements to reinforce what the public is questioning. In order for this to be possible, reaching out to subject matter experts, food service businesses, and the general public will be crucial to creating a design to address people’s real needs and the direction of my work.