4 Transnational Meta-Narratives and Personal Stories of Plastics Usage and Management via Social Media

Shalin Hai-Jew


Daily, people interact with plastic, a human-made material that may last for generations in the soils, the air, and the water, with health effects on humans, animals, and the environment. What are the transnational meta-narratives and personal stories of plastics on social media—on (1) a mass-scale digitized book corpus term frequency search, (2) social video sharing site, (3 and 4) two social image sharing sites, (5) a crowd-sourced online encyclopedia, (6) a social networking site, (7) a microblogging site, and (8) a mass-scale search term analysis based on time-based associations with correlated search terms? This work samples macro-scale stories of innovation (biodegradable plastics, bacteria that consume plastics), of lowering consumption, of plastic collection and recycling, of skimming the oceans of dumped plastics, and of mass-scale public awareness. There are also countervailing narratives of high consumption, resulting in overflowing landfills, plastics dumping on mountains and in rivers, and microplastics in people’s bodies.



Key Words

Post-Consumer Plastics, Recycling, Plastics Management, One Health, Microplastics, Social Media, Transnational Meta-Narratives, Transnational Personal Stories



Humanity is said to live in the current Plastic Age (Yarsley & Couzens, 1945, as cited in Cózar, et al., July 15, 2014, p. 10239). Indeed, plastic is ubiquitous and a part of daily life for most people around the world. Plastics are integrated into non-durable-goods short-life products and durable goods or long-life products. They are in visible applications like food packaging, jewelry, clothing, and other consumer goods; they are in less visible applications like computers, machinery, flooring, and others. People eat from plastic containers; they store possessions in them. They wear plastic in their clothing and footwear. They decorate themselves with plastic jewelry. They walk on plastic carpets, and they live in houses partially created with plastic

Since 1950, some “6,300 million metric tons of plastic” have been created, with “79 percent of that waste” in landfills and oceans (Daley, May 8, 2019). Annually, some “18 billion pounds of conventional plastic” are released into the world’s oceans annually (Daley, May 8, 2019). A 2014 study by the 5 Gyres Institute resulted in an estimation of “5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing some 269,000 tons…floating on the surface of the sea” (Seltenrich, Feb. 1, 2015, p. 1). An earlier work, based on modeling, points to “5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons afloat at sea” (Eriksen, et al., Dec. 10, 2014). Various plastics are carried by the ocean current hundreds of miles from its point-of-origin (Seltenrich, Feb. 1, 2015, p. 4). The sorbative nature of plastics has meant the soaking in of toxins, which ride with the plastics, which are consumed by both people and animals, whose bodies are exposed to desorbed toxins (Seltenrich, Feb. 1, 2015, p. 6). “Studies have demonstrated plastics’ tendency to sorb (take up) persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic substances, which are present in trace quantities in almost all water bodies” (Seltenrich, Feb. 1, 2015, p. ) Plastic bags may “look like the jellyfish eaten by turtles” (Seltenrich, Feb. 1, 2015, p. 3). People also, unintentionally, consume plastics through marine plastic pollution (Seltenrich, Feb. 1, 2015).


As a term, “plastic refers to a huge variety of materials, all of which are organic (which is to say they are made of a group of compounds based on carbon), solid, and moldable” (Miodowni, 2013, p. 121). As a commonly-used material in the present age, a plastic is defined as follows:

a synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers such as polyethylene, PVC, nylon, etc., that can be molded into shape while soft and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form. (“Plastic,” Oxford English Dictionary, 2019).

Plastics are human-made from naturally occurring compounds as well as human-made (synthetic) ones.

Plastics, which were invented in 1907 (“Plastic,” Oct. 18, 2019), have long been in the world’s marketplaces, and it has only been of late that plastic recycling has come to the public consciousness and been emplaced into initial practice [1980s and 1990s, albeit with the first plastic waste recycling mill in the world in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania in 1972 (“History of Plastic Recycling,” 2019)]. Public awareness of “plastic pollution” only followed generations after the advent of its widespread usage, with untold effects on people, animals, and the environment. Plastic, as a synthetic product created from various types of natural/organic and synthetic polymers, was found not to break down in the environment but rather to exist for generations in landfills, leaving messes for future populations. Over time, it was found plastics entered the oceans and entangled wildlife and was consumed by wildlife at all trophic levels, leading to health effects and deaths. In terms of the recycling of “common materials,” plastic comes in dead last after the following: paper, metal, and glass, in the U.S. from 1990 – 2015 (“Playing catch-up: Plastics are recycled less in the US than other common materials,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as cited in Tulio, Oct. 6, 2019).

As a product, “plastic” has vastly improved human lives in many ways:

Plastics have an array of unique properties: they are inexpensive, lightweight, strong, durable, corrosion resistant, and with high thermal and electrical insulation properties. This versatility has revolutionised (sic) our life and not least made information technology and electrical goods far more readily available than would have been possible otherwise. They have also contributed to our health and safety (e.g., clean distribution of water and breakthrough medical devices), and have led to substantial energy savings in transportation. Unsurprisingly, with an ever expanding population and our standard of living continuously improving, plastic production has increased from 0.5 to 260 million tonnes per year since 1950 (Heap 2009), accounting today for approximately 8% of world oil production (Thompson et al., 2009b, as cited in Wabnitz & Nichols, 2010, p. 1).

Another definition of “plastic” is “(of a substance or material) easily shaped or molded” (“Plastic,” Oxford English Dictionary, 2019). Some synonyms of “plastic” are words like “elastic, molded, bending, formable, moldable, pliable, resilient, shapeable, supple, (and) workable” (“plastic,” Thesaurus, 2019). There are said to be seven common types of plastic: polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE or Polyester), high -density polyethylene (HDPE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), low-density polyethyene (LDPE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), and other.

Something that is “plastic,” by definition, is malleable and moldable and shape-shifting. In terms of “plastic recycling,” both of these meanings coalesce. Here a subset of the plastics substance can be reprocessed back into a version of its native form for re-use, ideally, many times over. “Plastic recycling” or “polymer recycling” has been defined as follows:

…a way to reduce environmental problems caused by polymeric waste accumulation generated from day-to-day applications of polymer materials such (as) packaging and construction. The recycling of polymeric waste helps to conserve natural resource because thee most of polymer materials are made from oil and gas. (Hamad, Kaseem, & Deri, 2013, p. 2801)

There are efforts towards resetting market incentives to encourage plastic recycling. One idea involves making plastic-from-oil much more expensive than plastic-from-plastic, in order to create markets for the recycled plastic and to incentivize the collection of plastics by “rag pickers” in the developing world and elsewhere. (Forrest, Nov. 1, 2019)

For plastic recycling to work, however, people have to be aware of the need to recycle consumer plastics, their necessary role in bringing recyclables to recycling stations, and using their buying power as consumers to buy recycled goods (to create markets). The requisite behavioral role of consumers then suggests that various stakeholders in plastics and environmentalism have an interest in reaching out to the broad public…with transnational messaging…to address this issue. This movement also stands to gain with additional allies and contributors to non-profit advocacy organizations promoting plastics recycling, such as start-ups with new technologies for collecting plastics in ocean gyres and other entities. Plastics management requires post-consumer plastic reuse and recycling.


This research is focused around a central research question:

R1: What is the state of transnational advocacy for proper plastics management globally to prevent harm to humans, animals, and the environment, in a One Health conceptualization, in social media?

R1a: What are transnational meta-narratives?

R1b: What are transnational personal stories?

What is meant by “one health,” broadly speaking? A One Health conceptualization stems from the recognition that “the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment” (“One Health Basics,” 2019). As an overarching term, it enables “a collaborative, multisectoral, and transdisciplinary approach” to benefit the health outcomes of humans and animals (“One Health Basics,” 2019). This work involves capturing data from seven social media source types, with eight representational social media platforms:

Public messages inform an “authorizing environment” around which the public acts, so understanding the messaging may be important to learning what other messages need to be emerge, which ones need to be supported, and more strategic ways to communicate broadly.

Part 1: Google Books Ngram Viewer (mass book corpus term frequency search)

Part 2: YouTube (social video sharing site)

Part 3: Google Images (social imagery sharing site)

Part 4: Flickr (social imagery sharing site)

Part 5: Wikipedia (crowd-sourced global encyclopedia)

Part 6: Facebook (social networking site)

Part 7: Twitter (microblogging site)

Part 8: Google Correlate (a mass-scale search term correlation w/ other search terms over weekly time in a geographical region)

The main focus of this work then will be on the social media messaging, even though there has been some light review of the academic literature and mass media news coverage of the plastics recycling issue (to provide context). The visuals will be coded manually. Coding social imagery as a method for social exploration of issues (Hai-Jew, 2018). The textual messaging will be analyzed by both close human reading and distant reading (through computational analysis). The videos will be analyzed via their transcripts, using both close and distant reading analyses.

Also, this issue is being addressed in a number of human spaces: global governance, national governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), corporations, municipalities, and others. These other endeavors are beyond the purview of this work. The focus here is mostly on social media messaging to the broad general public to encourage the recycling of post-consumer plastics (as contrasted to post-industrial plastics). However, the transnational environmental movements that activate various entities are discussed lightly in the Conclusion.

Review of the Literature

Virgin polymers can be used to create drinking bottles, but recycled plastics can only generally be recycled about a half-dozen times before it can no longer be recycled and must be discarded. Some of these recycled plastics may retain their quality and be “upcycled” into food-bearing containers. However, additives mixed into plastics in the recycling process make it impossible to recycle after a certain point. Post-consumer plastics may be “downcycled” into “handbags or benches instead of completing the recycling loop by becoming milk jugs, water bottles and Greek yogurt tubs” (Daley, May 8, 2019). Scientists have created recyclable PDKs that may be “infinitely” recycled in the lab (Daley, May 8, 2019). There are advances to recycling methods as well, such as “chemical recycling, gasification or pyrolysis,” as noted by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR).

Transnational Meta-Narratives and Personal Stories of Plastics Usage and Management via Social Media

To set up a baseline for the topic of “plastic recycling,” a skim of academic articles and of journalistic ones was conducted. The first tended towards issues of innovative methods for plastic recycling, for increased efficiencies, based on close readings. Several of the works note that what works in the lab may not be directly transferable to industrial scale efforts. For the latter set, the articles addressed applied plastic recycling for a general reading audience. A “distant reading” approach to the academic articles (as a set consisting of 1,108 pp. and 648,022 words) show top-level themes that are fairly general (material, plastic, polymer, process, products, recycling, sample, system, and waste) (Figures 1 – 3 and Table 1).


Autocoded Top-Level Themes in Academic Articles about Plastic Recycling
This treemap diagram captures top-level autocoded themes from academic articles about plastic recycling: plastic, recycling, waste, material, process, sample, products, system, and polymer.

Figure 1: Autocoded Top-Level Themes in Academic Articles about Plastic Recycling

Autocoded Top-Level Themes in Academic Articles about Plastic Recycling (3D bar chart)
This plot shows the relative frequency of references to various autocoded themes from academic articles about plastic recycling.

Figure 2: Autocoded Top-Level Themes in Academic Articles about Plastic Recycling (3D bar chart)


Autocoded Top-Level Themes and Related Subthemes in Academic Articles about Plastic Recycling
This treemap diagrams shows the top-level themes and sub-themes from the academic articles set related to plastic(s) recycling.

Figure 3: Autocoded Top-Level Themes and Related Subthemes in Academic Articles about Plastic Recycling



avoided material

biodegradable materials

blast furnace material

composite materials

contact materials

delaminated material

different food packaging polymeric materials

filling material

hazardous materials

increased material efficiency

interfering materials impurity

laminated materials

material consumptions

material flow analysis modelling

material handling system

material property

material reaches

material recovery facility

material structures

material substitution ratio

material type classification accuracies

natural materials

non-plastic material parts

nonplastic materials

original material

pharmaceutical packaging polymeric materials

plastic packaging materials

primary material

recycled material

resistant forest industry materials

sample materials

scrap material

showed material quality appropriateness

subsequent material loss

target material

traditional material

tribo charger material

unwanted materials

valerian materials

various microporous materials

virgin materials

vulnerable materials

waste material composition

wood-like material


¼ plastic bottles

398 plastics films

410 plastic pieces collectedfromanenclosedbeachonwashburnisland

adjacent plastic bottles

agglomerated plastic waste

american plastics

analyzed plastic samples

apolar plastics

archived plastic samples

beach plastic debris

collected plastic samples

coloured plastic

cycle assessment plastic waste

different plastic resins

different plastic types

disposable plastic cutlery

extruded plastic string

film plastic fraction

forward plastic supply chain

hard plastic

hollow plastic melt

industrial plastic pellets

ingesting plastic

injected plastic

international plastic production


light plastics

marine plastic distribution

mixed waste plastics

net-collected plastic

neustonic plastic studies

numerous plastic types

ofcommonconsumer plastics

ofpelagic plastic

packaging plastics

pelagic plastic debris

pelagic plastic particles

pelagic plastic samples

plastic bags

plastic bottle contour

plastic concentrations

plastic containers

plastic content

plastic debris data

plastic films

plastic form

plastic fragments

plastic furniture

plastic grocery bags

plastic marine pollution

plastic market

plastic moldings

plastic nets

plastic objects

plastic packaging materials

plastic particles content

plastic pollution increases

plastic polymers

plastic product groups

plastic production market

plastic properties

plastic recyclables

plastic scrap

plastic sheeting

plastic tanks

plastic toy

plastic transparency

plastic waste characteristics

plastic waste fraction

plastic waste items

plastic waste management schemes

plastic waste products

plastic waste recycling

plastic waste segregation

plastic waste streams

polar plastics

post-consumer plastic packaging waste

post-consumer plastic samples

producing plastics

recycled plastic bottles

recycled plastic bridge

recycled plastic lumber walls

recycled plastic outputs

samplesto plastic debris

single-life cycle plastic products

single-polymer plastics

soft plastic particles

specific plastics

term plastics

tertiary plastic

virgin plastic source


3 polymer recovery

578 polymer degradation

chloride-containing polymers

condensation polymer

crystalline polymer

immiscible polymers

individual polymers

non-targeted polymer

other1 quality polymer

plastic polymers

polymer bed

polymer contamination

polymer design

polymer marketplace

polymer parts

polymer– polymer incompatibility

polymer recyclate stream end markets

polymer separability

polymers chemical

recycled polymer

regarding polymer type

several polymers

virgin polymer

waste polymers

yoghurt bowl polymer


2 processing cycles

active density separation process

additional separation processes

advanced process

bid process

catalyst process

combustion processes

ester exchange process

experimental process

freiberg process

general process

hiedrierwerke process

hydrogenation process

innovative processes

mechanical recycling processes

mirror welding process

morphological processing

oil refinery process

physical processes

process conditions

process steps

processing sites

processing temperatures

recovery processes

tagging process

two-stage process


annual production

coloured products

gaseous products

international plastic production

main product component

moulded product

multipolymer products

multi-polymer products

non-plastic products

petrochemical products

plastic product groups

plastic production market

plastic waste products

product application categories

product colour impurity

product designs

product life time

product lifetime

product residues

product types

pvccontainer waste product application

recycled products

retail products

single-life cycle plastic products

slab stock foam production waste

thick-walled products

wood products markets


chemical recycling

danish recycling centres

dutch recycling system

feedstock recycling options

mechanical recycling processes

net recycling yields

open-loop recycling

packaging waste recycling law

plastic recyclables

plastic waste recycling

private recycling centers

recyclable load

recycled bottles

recycled fiber

recycled fleece

recycled foam flakes

recycled material

recycled oak wood flour oak

recycled paper fiber pallets

recycled plastic bottles

recycled plastic bridge

recycled plastic lumber walls

recycled plastic outputs

recycled polymer

recycled products

recycled waste rubber powder

recycling chain

recycling companies

recycling concern

recycling efficiencies

recycling facilities

recycling fees

recycling indicators

recycling journal homepage

recycling line

recycling machine vision support vector machine

recycling method karishma

recycling network

recycling plant

recycling potentials

recycling programs

recycling purposes

recycling receptacles

recycling society

recycling status

recycling studies

recycling technologies

recycling waterway sediments

related recycling quota

secondary recycling schemes


analyzed plastic samples

analyzed samples

archived plastic samples

archived samples

beach sample set

collected plastic samples

different sample

first sample

fresh clay sample

k neighbor samples

liquid samples

pelagic plastic samples

perpendicular sample

post-consumer plastic samples

primary samples

sample collection

sample densities

sample frequency

sample materials

sampling campaign

sampling integration time

sampling scheme

sampling sites

straightforward sampling method

subsequent samples

uniform sample

whole sample

zenith sample


automated sorting system

bid system

collection system

conveyor system

coordinate system

data-acquisition system

detection system

dutch recycling system

endocrine system

equatorial system

extensive flue gas cleaning systems

french waterway system

hysteretic system

image vision system

in-house bin systems

machine vision system

market systems

material handling system

model systems

nervous system

piping systems

prototype system

service system

sound classification systems

structural systems

sustainable management system

system boundaries


agglomerated plastic waste

building waste

cycle assessment plastic waste

disposed waste

electronic waste

european waste policies

film waste

food waste conversion options

furniture waste

informal waste collectors

main waste stream

mixed waste plastics

organic waste

packaging waste recycling law

plastic waste characteristics

plastic waste fraction

plastic waste items

plastic waste management schemes

plastic waste products

plastic waste recycling

plastic waste segregation

plastic waste streams

post-consumer plastic packaging waste

preferred waste management options

private waste contractors

pvccontainer waste product application

recycled waste rubber powder

residual household waste

rich waste

rubber waste

sanitary waste

sawmill waste hardwood

shredded waste

slab stock foam production waste

solid waste management

waste avoidance

waste generation

waste handling

waste hierarchy

waste incinerators

waste management applications

waste management policy instruments

waste material composition

waste packaging types

waste pickers

waste pipe

waste polymers

waste rubber granulate

waste transport

waste types

waste vegetables

Table 1: Autocoded Topics and Sub-Topics from the Academic Text Set around Plastic Recycling


While a majority of the text is sentiment-neutral, of the text that had sentiment in this academic article set, the sentiment tended towards moderation—moderately negative and moderately positive. (Figure 4)


Autocoded Sentiment Analysis of Academic Articles about Plastic Recycling
This 2d barchart shows that the academic articles about plastic recycling tend to trend moderately negative and moderately positive, where sentiment was found in the writing. A majority of such text is sentiment-neutral (as is typical for academic writing).

Figure 4: Autocoded Sentiment Analysis of Academic Articles about Plastic Recycling


The processes of the academic text above were conducted using NVivo 12 Plus. Another run over the same data was conducted using LIWC2015, for additional insights. In terms of general language, the academic works scored high on analytics features (97.35), at the 50th percentile on clout or power scores, low on emotional warmth or authenticity (7.40), and negative sentiment in tone (33.21). (Figure 5)


Scored Language Elements in Academic Literature around Plastic Recycling
Using LIWC2015, the academic literature was assessed for universal features…with the writing found to be highly analytic, middling in terms of clout, low in terms of emotional warmth (“authentic”), and negative in tone.

Figure 5: Scored Language Elements in Academic Literature around Plastic Recycling

In terms of references to biological bodily functions, the academic literature had some small amounts of references, potentially in a health context (Figure 6).


References to Biological Bodily Functions in Academic Literature around Plastic Recycling
Computational text analysis shows references to bodily functions in the plastic recycling academic literature, particularly in terms of health and ingestion. (LIWC2015)

Figure 6: References to Biological Bodily Functions in Academic Literature around Plastic Recycling

In terms of time focuses, the time-based language focused mostly on the present, followed by focuses on the past, and less on the future (Figure 7).


Relative Time Focuses in Academic Literature around Plastic Recycling
The academic literature around plastic recycling uses language that focuses mostly on the present. (LIWC2015)

Figure 7: Relative Time Focuses in Academic Literature around Plastic Recycling

Finally, in reference to lifestyle factors, the plastic recycling academic article set showed a focus mostly on work and much less on leisure or home, which seems intuitive (Figure 8).


Plastic Recycling as Mostly a Work Concern in the Academic Literature (in the context of human lives)
This piechart shows the language from plastic recycling articles as focused around work (vs. leisure and home concerns). (LIWC2015)

Figure 8: Plastic Recycling as Mostly a Work Concern in the Academic Literature (in the context of human lives)

This is to say that the academic research is aligned towards solving some of the technological challenges related to plastics and their usage and management. Where the experts have conceptual models of the challenge, non-experts have mental models of the same. In a massmind approach, the general stages to plastic recycling include the following: collection, sorting, washing, shredding, types of processing (physical, heat, chemical, and others), and voila! Some polymer recycling processes result in plastic pellets that can be reconfigured into various objects, others to fuels, and others to polyester yarn (that may be knitted into clothing, carpet, car seats, packaging, shopping bags, and other goods that may be made with “downgraded” or “downcycled” plastics, which cannot be recycled again). (Most industrial processing methods are likely to be registered through the patenting process to protect the rights of inventors to monetarily benefit from the work for a limited time period.) The broad public comes into play with their behavioral role, as consumers and as recyclers.

Plastic Recycling on Social Media

So what is seeable about “plastic recycling” in social media on various platform types?

Part 1: Google Books Ngram Viewer (mass-scale digitized book corpus term frequency search)

Part 2: YouTube (social video sharing site)

Part 3: Google Images (social imagery sharing site)

Part 4: Flickr (social imagery sharing site)

Part 5: Wikipedia (crowd-sourced global encyclopedia)

Part 6: Facebook (social networking site)

Part 7: Twitter (microblogging site)

Part 8: Google Correlate (a mass-scale search term correlation w/ other search terms over weekly time in a geographical region)

Part 1: Google Books Ngram Viewer

In terms of formal book publishing, a search for “plastic” and various types of plastics were run through Google Books Ngram Viewer, with high references to “plastic” as a generic and much lesser of the others, mostly starting in the 1940s. (Figure 9) In terms of “plastic recycling,” that term did not register in the search, which went from the 1800s to 2000. This can be understood as a general proxy for public awareness of the educated classes and parts of the general public for this issue.


An Exploration of “Plastic(s)” and Common Types in Modern Usage on the Google Books Ngram Viewer (English Corpus, 1800 - 2000)
The Google Books Ngram Viewer shows various references to plastics of various kinds over time in the English book corpora.

Figure 9: An Exploration of “Plastic(s)” and Common Types in Modern Usage on the Google Books Ngram Viewer (English Corpus, 1800 – 2000)

Part 2: YouTube (social video sharing)

On YouTube, the social video-sharing site, a search for videos tagged “plastic recycling” only brought up a webpage and a half of videos on the topic before it transitioned to videos about other topics like glass recycling. The auto-complete in the search box for “plastic recycling” brought some other less general options (in descending order): “plastic recycling machine, plastic recycling business, plastic recycling process, plastic recycling at home, plastic recycling business in bangladesh, plastic recycling machine in bangladesh, plastic recycling ideas, plastic recycling machine price list, plastic recycling products, (and) plastic recycling plant.” A total of 11 video transcripts were captured, with 10 for adults and 1 for children. The transcripts were treated as one text set because when the transcripts were run individually, it was not possible to extract a computational data analysis of the text. The autocoded topics may be seen in Figure 10 and Table 2 (an intensity table).


Autocoded Themes from 11 YouTube Video Transcripts around “Plastic Recycling” (treemap diagram)
Social video around plastic recycling shows less complexity than autocoded theme extractions from text sets. Many such videos are advocacy ones to promote pro-environment and pro-health approaches to plastics management.

Figure 10: Autocoded Themes from 11 YouTube Video Transcripts around “Plastic Recycling” (treemap diagram)


A : bin B : plastic C : recycling
1 : CarbonliteWorldsLargestPlasticBottleRecyclingPlant 0 0 0
2 : DirtyBusinessWhatReallyHappenstoRecycling 0 0 0
3 : HowPlasticRecyclingActuallyWorks 0 2 3
4 : Plastics101 0 12 1
5 : PreciousPlasticHowtoFinishObjectsfromRecycledPlastic 0 0 0
6 : RecyclingforKids 5 4 6
7 : RecyclingPlasticsResourceEfficiencyOptimizedSortingMethod 0 0 0
8 : SixRoofandPavementTilesfromPlasticWaste 0 15 1
9 : WaronPlasticIsn’tWorkingRecyclingMythsExposed 0 0 0
10 : WhatHappenstoYourRecycling 4 7 8
11 : WhyWereSoBadRecyclingPlastic 0 8 4

Table 2: Autocoded Themes from 11 YouTube Video Transcripts around “Plastic Recycling”

In terms of the sentiment in the extracted transcripts from the videos, the sentiment across the sets may be seen in Figure 11.


Autocoded Sentiment in 11 YouTube Video Transcripts around “Plastic Recycling”
The respective video transcripts show different measures of sentiment across four categories: very negative, moderately negative, moderately positive, and very positive. (NVivo 12 Plus)

Figure 11: Autocoded Sentiment in 11 YouTube Video Transcripts around “Plastic Recycling”

Part 3: Google Images (social image sharing)

A set of imagery tagged “plastic recycling” (through a combination of folk tagging and machine-based tagging) was captured from Google Images. These resulted in 1,575 socially shared images. The tags for this imageset (for filtering) include the following: “art, infographic, recyclable, creative, diy, pet, melting, environment, paper, waste, ocean, kids, symbol, plastic bottle, clip art, numbers, heat compression, home, hdpe, factory, innovative, design, reuse, chart, step by step, plastic packaging, plastic pollution, mixed, glass, (and) plastic bag”. This imagery seems to provide popular understandings but is not heavy on the actual science. Some of the surface messaging of these images are about getting clean and recyclable plastics from the general public into the plastic recycling system for processing. (Figure 12)


“Plastic Recycling” Image Search on Google Images
This screenshot shows a variety of mini-thumbnails related to the topic of “plastic recycling.”

Figure 12: “Plastic Recycling” Image Search on Google Images

These images were coded by people type in depicted roles, possibly evocative of their stakeholder position in relation to plastic recycling. The results of this coding may be seen in the Pareto chart in Figure 13.


People by Roles in the “Plastic Recycling” Imageset on Google Images (1,575 images)
This Pareto chart shows how people are depicted by role in the plastic recycling social imageset.

Figure 13: People by Roles in the “Plastic Recycling” Imageset on Google Images (1,575 images)

In terms of the percentage of images with people in them, only a small percentage (15%) met that requirement. (Figure 14)


Images with People vs. those Without in the “Plastic Recycling” Imageset on Google Images (237/1,575 images or 15%)
One approach to study the social imageset of plastic recycling is to observe the presence/absence of people in the visuals.

Figure 14: Images with People vs. those Without in the “Plastic Recycling” Imageset on Google Images (237/1,575 images or 15%)

Another count was also conducted. If are multiple people portrayed in an image, they are counted multiply. According to this count, there was an average of about 1.6 persons per image with people in them.

There were two animated gifs. One was of a hand pressing down a bottle, which reconstitutes into a pair of green-and-white striped pants. Another showed a hand depositing a bottle for recycling into a bin.

Finally, a rough bottom-up coding approach was applied to the 1,575 images, to capture a sense of frequency of image types. Generally, stingy coding was applied, which meant trying to code one image to one category only; however, there was some overlap between “logos” and “advertisements” and a few other overlaps, so this work resulted in 2,351 descriptions from a set of 1,575. (Figure 15)


Categories of Social Imagery in the ‘Plastic Recycling’ Imageset from Google Images (1,575)
The social imagery in the plastic reyccling set may be depicted in terms of functional categories: informational grapics, recycling factories, stock images, and so on, in descending order, in this Pareto chart.

Figure 15: Categories of Social Imagery in the ‘Plastic Recycling’ Imageset from Google Images (1,575)


To elaborate, the “infographics” included a visual of the pricing of recyclable plastics, types of plastics, contamination issues from “commingling,” cross-contamination, statistics data, diagrams, recycling rates across types, scientific applications, the location of the plastic type labeling on a plastic bag, a plastic lump with veins like a rock, “ocean plastic recycling,” a chemical chain, cross-contamination of containers, steps to putting together a standing recycling basket made of plastic, and others. Those coded to “recycling factory” include conveyer belts with recyclables being moved, plastic recycling machinery, building exteriors, bundled recyclables, and others. For “discarded plastics outdoors,” these included beaches with wash-up bottles and piles dumped in outdoors spaces. For “household recycling,” these included household recycling bins on roadsides, a man dropping a full garbage bag into a dumpster, and recycling containers. The “science references” showed references to chemical compounds and science labs. The “workplace recycling” showed recycle bins in office settings. The “outdoor recycling” showed outdoor bins in parks. “Garbage picking” showed people picking through garbage for valuables. The “logos” captured business and other visual symbols. The “signage” category showed various types of messaging: “Not All Plastic is Recyclable,” “trash to cash,” “What Numbers of Plastic are Recyclable,” (not ads), “Soft Plastic Recycling,” “At Home Recycling,” “Methods of Plastic Waste Management,” “Plastic Bottles and Aluminum Can,” “10 Facts about Plastic Recycling,” “Recyclable Plastic Only,” “PET Bottle Washing,” “Keep Calm and Recycle Plastic,” “PET Bottle Washing,” “What Happens to Your Plastic Bottles,” “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” and “Recyclable Plastic Only.” The signs were for blog headers, report headers, and usually contained both an image and text. The catch-all category were general photographs related to plastic recycling: a plastic bag in a shopping cart, a close-up of plastic bottles, plastic bottles on a light table, recycled green hand chairs, stylized photo of positioned bottles, plastic containers, stock image of water poured from plastic bottle into a plastic cup (stylized), studio photos, and others. “Stock images” were their own category, with highly stylized imagery (whether from the photography setup and / or the post-production. “Advertisements” were designed images for the selling of products, services, or brand names. One photo was initially thought not to belong, but on second look, it was a view of a garden with bright tiles, which were likely made from a plastic composite. Certainly, de-contextualized images can be somewhat ambiguous.

To follow on, a search for “plastic” was conducted in Google Images. Interestingly, some of the tags here clearly refer to recycling (bold-faced and underlined): “ocean, recycling, pollution, bottle, water bottle, bag, packaging, waste, beach, ban, environment, fish, turtle, material, cartoon, sea, poster, toy, art, island, food, glass, craft, container, drawing, sea turtle, paper, pipe, sculpture, awareness” (boldfaced and underlined). (Figure 16)


“Plastic” Image Search on Google Images
This screenshot shows mini-thumbnails of some of the “plastic” social images captured via Google Images.

Figure 16: “Plastic” Image Search on Google Images

Part 4: Flickr (social image sharing)

Searches were conducted on the Flickr social image sharing site for both “plastic” and “plastic recycling,” with two resulting imagesets (Figure 17). The tags for images on Flickr are machine-applied and focus on visual senses: red, dark orange, orange, pale pink, lemon yellow, school bus yellow, green, dark lime green, cyan, blue, violet, pink, white, gray, and black…in terms of colors…and then also black and white, low depth of field (shallow focus), minimalist, and patterns.


“Plastic” and “Plastic Recycling” Imagesets on Flickr
This visual shows the “plastic” vs. “plastic recycling” imagesets from the Flickr social imagery sharing site. The subset of images are represented as mini-thumbnails.

Figure 17: “Plastic” and “Plastic Recycling” Imagesets on Flickr


In the “plastic” set (150 items), there are images of the following: various types of plastic-wrapped foods, plastic toys, faux food, human hands cuffed by plastic six-pack ties (and others with regular plastic zip ties), a Halloween pumpkin, straws, a plastic Jesus figure, a farm field being tilled with a tractor, empty newspaper boxes with plastic fronts, raincoats, plastic frogs and mallard ducks, packaged drinks, plastic furniture (mostly chairs), a decorative bowl, a sunflower, a white plastic chair, a hippo, a reindeer, an airplane, forks, a water bottle, a mobile trailer, and lacy plastic coasters. There are a few images about plastic surgery, including body contouring, for a different “sense” of plastic.

In terms of “plastic recycling” (1,796 items), there are images of the following: icons indicating different types of plastics, interwoven plastic strands, a person dressed in various types of plastic items, data visualizations (about types of plastics), crafts “recycled” from discarded plastics (baskets, earrings, necklaces, decorative pins, coats, shoes, sculptures, and others), a parking lot filled with plastic or rubber recycling totes, a colorful circular carpet, a bedraggled Christmas tree, transparent bags of recyclables, mobile phone holders, a man dumpster diving to collect recyclables (likely for micro payments), a dragon sculpture made of recyclable materials, woven baskets, crafting, knitted hats, a bicycle cart packed with cardboard and plastic bags of recyclables, inventions, 3D printed figurines, a knitted fruit bowl containing green applies, key rings, a “plastic bottle bank” for collecting recyclables, toys, a discarded styorogoam food container, signage, a recyclables igloo, a sign advertising “BPA-free products,” plastic bottle caps, trucks hauling recyclables, and other variations. There were also depictions of plastic and Styrofoam (a form of plastic) food containers. There were logos and icons related to the topic. Also, there were images of recycling campaigns, with people speaking from podiums. Several photos involved a “recycle yourself” message, which refers to a type of composing burial available in limited release. There were photos of plastic foods. There were images of plastic ropes, factory sites, industrial machinery, and plastic straws.

Finally, a related tags network was extracted around “plastic” on Flickr to understand evocations, and two interrelated groups of tags were extracted. The first (box to the left) evokes various durable goods products related to plastics (cars, cameras, and others), and the latter seems to focus more on toys, dolls, barbie, jewelry, and handmade goods. (Figure 18)


“Plastic” Related Tags Network on Flickr Social Image Sharing Site
This network graph shows interconnections between folk tagging of social imagery shared with “plastic” as one of the tags (at 1.5 degrees). (NodeXL)

Figure 18: “Plastic” Related Tags Network on Flickr Social Image Sharing Site

Part 5: Wikipedia (crowd-sourced global encyclopedia)

Another social media approach to “plastic recycling” is to explore the article-article networks in the open-source Wikipedia, in particular the English version of this crowd-sourced information source. The article network shows the outlinks from the article “Plastic_recycling” at one degree to other articles on Wikipedia (Figure 19). There are links to various organizations, types of plastics, companies, locations, publications, publisher names, and other references.


“Plastic Recycling” Article-Article Network on Wikipedia (1 deg.)
This article-article network graph shows the outlinks (within Wikipedia) from the “Plastic_recycling” article page.

Figure 19: “Plastic Recycling” Article-Article Network on Wikipedia (1 deg.)


A trawl of “Plastic” article-article networks at one degree shows even more complexity (Figure 20). The articles on Wikipedia include the following: “Plastic, Timeline of materials technology, Thermoforming, Thermal cleaning, Roll-to-roll processing, Progressive bag alliance, Organic light emitting diode, Light activated resin, Film, Corn construction, Rotational molding, Injection molding, Molding (process), Plastics extrusion, Plastic film, Plastic recycling, Plasticulture, Self-healing plastic, Microplastics, Plastics engineering, Caltech, nuclear arms race, space race, Styrene-butadiene, South East, Asia, Sergei Vasiljevich Lebedev, ebonite, Colloid, latex, Natural rubber, soda-lime glass, transparency (optics), plain bearing, Step-growth polymerization, caprolactam, nylon riots, Pantyhose, stocking, silk toothbrushes, Elmer Keiser Bolton, Wallace Carothers, New York City, 1939 World’s Fair, polyamide, mylar, Shrinkwrap, Styrofoam, plastic model, New York state, Belgian-American, Leo Hendrik Baekeland, formaldehyde, phenol, building code, Ontario, firestop, resin identification code, Recycling symbol, plastic container, Society of the Plastics Industry, Royal Artillery Barracks, Water Polo Arena, Olympic Games, Vinyloop, trash-to-energy plant, landfills, Active Disassembly, Labor intensity, future, Phenol-formaldehyde, Geotrichum candidum, Nocardia, Sargasso Sea, ultraviolet, Brevibacillus borstelensis, Sphingomonas, Pseudomonas fluorescens, oligomers, Acinetobacter, Aspergillus sydowii, Aspergillus niger, Lentinus tigrinus, Phanerochaete chrysosporium, Aspergillus fumigatus, polyhydroxyalkanoates, biodegradable plastic, pseudomonas putida, styrene, methanogenic consortia, pestalotiopsis, polyurethane, aminocaproic acid, nylon 6, flavobacterium, wastewater, ocean pollution, ocean acidification, disposable nappy, plastic cup, polymer degradation, adsorption, absorption (chemistry), alkane, pyrolysis, toxicity, incineration, methane emissions, carbon dioxide, greenhouse gas, ozone layer, chlorofluorocarbon, Montreal Protocol, microplastics, Deutsche Welle, Environmental Science & Technology, Forbes, Ocean Conservancy, amber, chemical decomposition, phthalates, new car smell, volatile organic compounds, plastic wrap, Bis(2-ethylhexyl) adipate, dental sealant, Environmental Health Perspectives, endocrine disruptor, estrogen, bisphenol A, National Geographic Society, carcinogen, International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization, alkylphenol, Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, di(n-octyl) phthalate, diisodecyl phthalate, diisononyl phthalate, benzyl butyl phthalate, dibutyl phthalate, Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, European Union, toys, phthalate, adipate, plasticizers, plastic colorant, plasticizer, rheology, plasticizer, reinforcing agent, fire retardant, stabilizer (chemistry), chemically inert, zinc oxide, ivory dust, wood flour, chalk, filler (materials), polymer stabilizers, organotin chemistry, inorganic compound, Comparative Tracking Index, UL746A, high voltage arc tracking rate, UL94, Flammability, Underwriters Laboratories, ISO 306, International Organization for Standardization, American Chemistry Council, Germany, Japan, United States, American Chemical Society, Dow Chemical Company, List of largest chemical producers, DuPont, Calico Printers’ Association, Dow Chemical, Giulio Natta, Imperial Chemical Industries, BASF, World War II, World War I, Bakelite, galalith, ivory, alcohol, nitric acid, cellulose, World’s fair, London, 1862 International Exhibition, Birmingham, Alexander Parkes, Parkesine, vulcanization, Charles Goodyear, Industrial Revolution, industrial chemistry, casein, Middle Ages, Mesoamerican, organic polymers, Galalith, collagen, nitrocellulose, natural rubber, shellac, chewing gum, Polydiketoenamine, Polysulfone, Silicone, Furan, cornstarch, lactic acid, Polylactic acid, modified starch, Plastarch material, Kapton, Polyimide, Polyetherimide, Maleimide, Implant (medicine), biocompatibility, polyetheretherketone, Urea-formaldehyde, Formica, Melamine resin, recycle, Formica (plastic), Young’s modulus, phenol formaldehyde, Phenolic resin, Teflon, Polytetrafluoroethylene, acrylic paints, Perspex, acrylic polymer, Acrylic glass, boron trifluoride, amide, amine, epoxy, Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, Saran (plastic), Polyvinylidene chloride, polyvinyl chloride, Polyurethanes, High impact polystyrene, Compact disc, foam peanut, Polystyrene, plastic pressure pipe systems, Polypropylene, Polyethylene terephthalate, garden furniture, Low-density polyethylene, High-density polyethylene, Polyethylene, textile, fiber, Polyester, riot shield, eyeglasses, Polycarbonate, fishing line, nylon, Polyamides, commodity plastics, polycarbonate, global warming, bioplastics, Biopol, Genetic engineering, starch, biodegradable additives, anaerobic digestion, aerobic digestion, environmental degradation, biodegradation, ultra-violet radiation, biodegradable, copper, polyacetylene, conductive polymers, vinyl chloride, crystallization of polymers, intermolecular force, melting point, molecular, amorphous, crystalline, methyl methacrylate, atomic mass unit, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene, polypropylene, polyethylene, thermosetting polymer, thermoplastic, elastomer, engineering plastic, biodegradable plastics, conductive polymers, product design, celsius, ionizing radiation, oxidation, chemical properties, glass transition temperature, tensile strength, density, hardness, physical property, cross-link, polyaddition, condensation reaction, halocarbon, polyurethanes, silicones, polyester, acryl group, side chain, chemical structure, side chains, backbone chain, repeating unit, monomer, repeat unit, sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, organic compound, aluminum, plastic deformation, synthetic fiber, artificial membrane, extruded, hot isostatic pressing, casting, plasticity (physics), Greek language, wikt:plastic, plastic recycling, polymer physics, Herman Francis Mark, polymer chemistry, Hermann Staudinger, Nobel laureate, materials science, Leo Baekeland, bakelite, plastic surgery, vinyl siding, plumbing, piping, ceramic, glass, metal, leather, bone, horn (anatomy), rock (geology), wood, petrochemical, molecular mass, organic polymer, polymer, plasticity (physics), molding (process), malleability, organic compound, (and) synthetic polymers. If nothing else, this list shows something of the complexity of plastics and their interwoven-ness in human lives.


“Plastic” Article-Article Network on Wikipedia (1 deg.)
This article-article network graph shows outlinks from the “Plastic” article page on Wikipedia to other articles on Wikipedia.

Figure 20: “Plastic” Article-Article Network on Wikipedia (1 deg.)

Part 6: Facebook (social networking site)

The Facebook social networking site seemed to have several accounts focused on plastic recycling.

A data capture from the @PlasticPollution account (https://www.facebook.com/PlasticPollution/) of the Plastic Pollution Coalition resulted in a capture of 1,988 posts and 60,425 comments, but multiple attempts to process these computationally resulted in failure, and only autocoded sentiment was captured, showing a majority of neutral text (as is typical with most natural language) but with negative sentiment predominant where sentiment was present (Figures 21 and 22).


Autocoded Sentiment from the @PlasticPollution Poststream on Facebook (treemap diagram)
This treemap diagram shows the relative sentiment labeling from the Facebook poststream for @PlasticPollution’s account.

Figure 21: Autocoded Sentiment from the @PlasticPollution Poststream on Facebook (treemap diagram)


Autocoded Sentiment Analysis from the @PlasticPollutionCoalition Poststream on Facebook (3D bar chart)
The @PlasticPollutionCoalition postream on Facebook trends negative sentiment although the text shows loading on each of the sentiment categories.

Figure 22: Autocoded Sentiment Analysis from the @PlasticPollutionCoalition Poststream on Facebook (3D bar chart)

As to the @LessPlasticUK account (https://www.facebook.com/LessPlasticUK/) on Facebook, 25 posts and 29 comments were captured. The top-level topics extracted computationally were “plastic” and “plastic waste.” (Figure 23)


Autocoded Themes from the @LessPlasticUK Poststream on Facebook
This treemap diagram shows two main theme areas for the @LessPlasticUK poststream on Facebook.

Figure 23: Autocoded Themes from the @LessPlasticUK Poststream on Facebook


This latter account tends much more towards positive sentiment and moderately negative. (Figure 24)


Autocoded Sentiments from the @LessPlasticUK Poststream on Facebook
The messaging on the @LessPlasticUK postream on Facebook shows loading on both “very positive” and “moderately negative” and the predominant sentiments.

Figure 24: Autocoded Sentiments from the @LessPlasticUK Poststream on Facebook

Part 7: Twitter (microblogging site)

There were four Twitter accounts found to relate to plastic recycling specifically. These are listed in Table 3, with their social statistics included.







Worcester, England


Joined Jan. 2014









Joined Sept. 2009





Alliance to End Plastic Waste




Joined Dec. 2018






Daventry, England


Joined Sept. 2016





Table 3: Four Twitter Accounts Related to Plastic Recycling


An analysis of the four respective Tweetstreams were conducted, showing different dimensions of sentiment, including very negative, moderately negative, moderately positive, and very positive. (Figure 25)


Comparative Sentiment in Four Tweetstream Datasets in Accounts related to Plastic Recycling on Twitter
In this spider chart (radar chart), the four tweetstream datasets are compared across machine-coded sentiment categories. This suggests that the social (and other) dynamics of a microblogging account may involve something of massmood.

Figure 25: Comparative Sentiment in Four Tweetstream Datasets in Accounts related to Plastic Recycling on Twitter


The autocoded themes from these combined sets may be seen in Figure 26. Run singly, no topics could be extracted, potentially based on the succinct nature of microblogging messages / tweets. The high-level topics were “plastic,” “https,” and “recycling,” which is suggestive of general focuses…but also that there are many references to off-site webpages (via the “https”).


Autocoded Themes from Four Combined Tweetstream Datasets of Twitter Accounts Related to Plastic Recycling
Three main theme areas were identified from the combined tweetstream datasets related to plastic recycling: plastic, https, and recycling. The subthemes are of further and more specific interest.

Figure 26: Autocoded Themes from Four Combined Tweetstream Datasets of Twitter Accounts Related to Plastic Recycling


In this space, there are some common hashtags, including #plasticpollution, #endplasticwaste, and others.

Part 8: Google Correlate (a mass-scale search term correlation w/ other search terms over weekly time in a geographical region)

On Google Correlate, “plastic recycling” as a search phrase resulted in no correlates for the following locations: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Morocco, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Viet Nam. This might suggest a wide lack of awareness of the issue, on the one hand, or at least a non-use of Google Search (the world’s leading search engine) using the English phrase for their searches. (There is varying but high penetration of English in most of those listed countries.) For Mexico, there were only two associations: “mina mexico” and “patarroyo” (0.621 and 0.617). (Table 6) In Canada, “plastic recycling” was just linked with “environmentally” (r=0.6001). In Egypt, those search terms were linked just with كتاب اولاد حارتنا (translated on Google Translate as) “book children of our neighborhood” with an r = 0.6015). A listing of the correlations are shown for China, Indonesia, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States (Tables 4 to 8).






hotel restaurant










qq ubuntu






antibacterial activity


the degradation


transferred to


环球 移民

global immigration


梦 见 吃饭

dream, see, eat


carbon sequestration


chemical constituents


梦 见 婴儿

dream see baby








s of


j. am. chem. soc


food industries


淘宝 宝

Taobao bao




怀孕 几 天

pregnant for a few days


effective in




i am writing to








jboss as


淘宝 网

taobao wang


腰 酸 背 痛

backache, back pain


growth factor receptor


梦 见 牙齿 掉

dream see teeth drop


positive solutions




梦 见 牙齿

dream see teeth






梦 见 亲戚

dream see relatives


梦 见 儿子

dream see son


大 团

large group








physicochemical properties


波 尿 酸

urinary acid


刚 怀孕

just pregnant


led 吸 顶灯

led sunction lamp


critically ill


organic acids









ubiquitin ligase


auf den


面包 做法

bread practice


梦 见 同学

dream see classmate






孕 囊

gestational sac


ubuntu 安装 qq

ubuntu installation qq


小 产 后

small postpartum


par la


人流 后

after the flow of people


graphene sheets


梦 见 坟墓

dream see the grave


dynamic response

Table 4: Weekly-Correlated Mass Search Terms with “Plastic Recycling” in China via Google Search (on Google Correlate)



paper ekonomi


la culture


yudha perdana

Yudha Prime




tempat wisata terkenal di indonesia

famous tourist attractions in Indonesia


tipe wanita

type of woman type


configure raid





ellen portia


wisata terkenal di indonesia

famous tour in Indonesia





virtual memory adalah


audio midi







kopertis yogyakarta

kopertis yogyakarta


artist film




dos hermanos

two brothers


water balance


i veta

in knowing


star wars toys


intel 8086










archimedes law


angelina sonda


sump filter


kyocera indonesia


makalah keamanan jaringan

network security papers






lirik lagu laskar cinta

lyrics of love




website bumn

bumn website


direktorat bea dan cukai

directorate of customs and excise


vietnam news


badan pusat statistik surabaya

surabaya statistics center


after world


indo balau ume

indonesian ume


music camp







decoder parabola


Table 5: Weekly-Correlated Mass Search Terms with “Plastic Recycling” in Indonesia via Google Search (on Google Correlate)



mina mexico

my mexico





Table 6: Weekly-Correlated Mass Search Terms with “Plastic Recycling” in Mexico via Google Search (on Google Correlate)





park plaza hotel


college of food


home loans


letter writing


nuffield hospital




reed employment








crowne plaza hotel






spanish translations




international property


holiday inn,


travel inn


up my street


law society




commercial properties


seasons hotel




application forms


patio hotel






travel inn manchester




cover letters


covering letters


fish 4


sage line 50






my street




line 50


bupa hospital




four seasons hotel










birmingham college of food








sussex council








recycling plastic


commercial agents


dreweatt neate




quality hotel




planning office


hilton hotel


commercial mortgages


maternity rights


training in




4 jobs


& co






nuffield hospitals




radisson hotel








weight conversions


art centre












french dictionary


tulip inn








youth service


Table 7: Weekly-Correlated Mass Search Terms with “Plastic Recycling” in United Kingdom via Google Search (on Google Correlate)



recycling plastic


earth friendly


green products




plastic recycle


recycle paper


recycling containers




environmentally friendly






get lyrics


green companies


green seal


solar hot


recycle logo


microsoft sam


juliet lyrics


recycled paper


wind power


solar hot water


bank national


green company




organic clothing


0mx lookup


recycle symbols


green hotels


wind generator




recycle bins


shopping bags


solar water


paper recycling


solar cell


sigg bottles


runescape cursors




smoke weed all day


green construction


food costs




sigg water


solar power


foreclosure home




green homes




foreclosure list


new hip hop singles


eco-friendly clothing


green business




recycle containers


sigg water bottles


over now




black diamond university


lil wayne pics




recycled plastic




kindercare learning




tribal war


bank owned real estate


forever the sickest kids lyrics


safe water




green product


global solar




real estate owned


calorie count


green living




green shopping bags


green office






hi5 .com


home foreclosures


irvine housing




green builders


streaming anime


compost bins


esx server


world group


green stocks


Table 8: Weekly-Correlated Mass Search Terms with “Plastic Recycling” in the United States via Google Search (on Google Correlate)


The mental conceptualizations of “plastic recycling” clearly differ between China, Indonesia, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States, in substance and in rank order of association based on time associations.


To recap, the main research question and the two sub-research questions follow.

R1: What is the state of transnational advocacy for proper plastics management globally to prevent harm to humans, animals, and the environment, in a One Health conceptualization, in social media?

R1a: What are transnational meta-narratives?

R1b: What are transnational personal stories?

The transnational advocacy around plastics recycling is piecemeal, mostly focused in developed countries, although there are occasional messages about such efforts in developing countries. There are some development projects that motivate plastics collections from rivers for micropayments, in the news. Anecdotally, there are stories of misuses of plastics. One involves farmers reusing plastics that used to contain pesticides…for food storage, resulting in human ingestion of toxins. In others, plastic is burned locally by street sweepers, releasing potential toxins into the air.

If advocacy requires messengers, and cognoscere mentem, cognoscere hominem (“know the motive, know the man”), then it may help to sketch out possible stakeholder communicators and their respective central motives in broad strokes:

  • Plastic manufacturers stand to gain by encouraging plastic recycling so that plastic itself is not painted with a negative broad brush given its many benefits. There is an important place for plastic in human lies until an improved and practical substitute is available one day, if then. Professional groups have their lobbies promoting particular ideas and practices.
  • Consumers appreciate convenience in their everyday lives, and they prefer low costs, and they prefer to be guilt-free. They also have concerns around One Health: human, animal, and environmental health. They want healthful lives and toxin-free environments.
  • Plastic recyclers want a constant stream of recyclable plastics, properly cleaned and sorted, for processing. The more pre-arrival efficiencies that can be addressed, the less they have to operationalize. They also want a market for their processed plastics, so that the cycle pre- and post- is available.

Based on the social media messaging and interactions, the content seems to also mostly originate from the West into the larger world because of the locations of the respective social media accounts around this issue, the types of photos shared, and the types of social messaging. The “regime of meaning” comes from a Western social hand, with ready access to recycling containers and collection sites, ready access to information in English and diagrams, and so on. Plastic recycling is portrayed in the context of general approaches to recycling of electronics, batteries, paper, glass, and other products, so it is not an issue handled in isolation.

From a social media sense, the broad public has a general sensibility about plastic recycling, but the public knowledge (if informed only by the textual and visual and video postings on social media and the occasional mass media journalistic article) seems superficial, something quite amateurish, but sufficient to motivate constructive behaviors. These social messages help create public awareness and public narratives—of what conscientious world citizens do to live peaceably in the world and within its systems and in alignment with nature. Certainly, the will is a start, but the will has to be backed up by smart decision making and constrained and smart consumption.

This work involves collected information from (1) a mass-scale digitized book corpus term frequency search, (2) a social video sharing site, (3 and 4) two social image sharing sites, (5) a crowd-sourced online encyclopedia, (6) a social networking site, (7) a microblogging site, and (8) mass-scale search and time-based associations, around “plastic” and “plastic recycling”. This trawl through social media collects glimpses of transnational meta-narratives and personal stories around “plastic recycling”. So what are some potential “transnational meta-narratives”? There are general stories:

  • The plastic management challenge is a global one, with depictions of plastic waste in developed and developing countries, in the oceans, and in peoples of the world.
  • Human over-consumption is a problem in the world and is irresponsible and harm-causing. There is no impactless consumption, even though “0-carbon” and light environmental footprints are aspirational ideals. Green virtue is an important goal.
  • Scientific research may provide some limited contribution to a solution, with biodegradable plastics (and other compostable packaging), bacteria that consume plastics, new plastics that may be recycled ad infinitum, and other approaches. These include work by materials scientists, biological engineers, chemical engineers, environmental scientists, and others. A recent discovery by an amateur beekeeper was that waxworm caterpillars can digest plastic, “even polyethylene, a common and non-biodegradable plastic currently clogging up landfills and seas” but which resulted in a “toxic substance” excreted; current research continues in the mechanics of the caterpillar interaction with the microbes in its digestive tract and in how this finding may be applied and scaled to help solve this issue of plastic waste (Hunt, Mar. 4, 2020).
  • Plastic recycling it not simple. It requires savvy consumers and industrial approaches that maximize the arriving consumer-used plastic (with various adulterations, “mixed recycling” contaminants, and other challenges). Much plastic is not recyclable and end up in landfills, based on the original feedstock used to create the original plastic and other processes along the way. Much plastic can only be “downcycled” to make products like bags and clothing and carpet, and not “upcycled” to remake clear-plastic bottles for carrying food products and drinks.
  • Plastic recycling is not costless. There are inputs required in terms of collection, transportation, processing, and others, that are required to actualize this in the world. There are various inputs into whether recycling plastics is worth the resources (Brueck, Oct. 8, 2019).
  • Also, there are effluents as a byproduct of plastic recycling (Santos, Teixeira, Agnelli, & Manrich, Oct. 2005). Such waste products, if untreated with “a typical physical-chemical treatment” at their source before discharge stand to affect the larger environment negatively. (Santos, Teixeira, Agnelli, & Manrich, Oct. 2005, p. 159)
  • In the plastic lifecycle, there are human livelihoods at play. Livelihoods are part of human well-being.
  • Perhaps modern life can involve more purposive consumption of materialia that does not entail such environmental costs on human, animal, and environmental health. (Some lurid images include dead sea life with the plastic contents in their stomachs displayed. There are images of microplastics in the human bloodstream, depicted in diagrams.)

These stories help mitigate potential tunnel vision in addressing the challenges. They inform of a more complex context, when taken together. In terms of the “personal stories” (at the lived level) about plastic recycling on social media, a few may be discerned and extracted.

  • People can make decisions about what they consume, use, recycle, and discard. They can take responsibility for what they learn and remember and apply to their own lives. They can play a critical role in plastic usage, recycling, and management. Their self-determined awareness and behaviors are important. There is a virtue in being frugal and green. People are empowered agents in the choices they make.
  • How people respond to plastic recycling, through their own creative repurposing of plastics, may be an extension of their self-expression. On social media are repurposed artworks, clothing, jewelry, knit bags, knit baskets, and other items, and these may result in lessened usage of other materials for those same types of products (less use of wood, less use of natural fibers, etc.). These acts and creations are also about awareness of plastics usage and so have an educative purpose.

Certainly, other transnational meta-narratives (macro-level) and personal stories (micro ego-level) may be understood from these collected (strung-together) informational contents, with top-down types of coding as well as bottom-up. Additional questions are relevant:

  • Are the transnational meta-narratives and personal stories around plastic recycling sufficiently coherent for the mass public’s for understandings?
  • Are they sufficiently motivating to encourage the desired pro-social actions?

A reasoned “green” (environmental) approach suggests that recycling is part of the most constructive One Health-based path, to protect human, animal, and environmental health. To actualize and operationalize this, people will have to make behavioral changes, manufacturing ones, scientific and technological advances, policy changes, and applied and practical changes. A read-through of the mass media coverage of this issue does show advances in each context. (Figure 27)


A Simplified Consumer Plastics Lifecycle (with off-path variants)
This diagram shows consumer options in how they may handle plastics, conceptually and practically.

Figure 27: A Simplified Consumer Plastics Lifecycle (with off-path variants)


In a lived sense, if people consumed less, fewer plastic items have to be manufactured or created. If less plastic went unconsumed and went straight to a landfill, that would save on wastage. If they used items consciously and avoided waste, that would also be important. If they repurposed plastics, that would mean less in the landfills (or at least slowing the time-to-landfill). Or if they recycled more, or more efficiently, there would be less plastic going to landfills. In the visual, there are a number of exit points, resulting in plastics in landfills. To solve such a challenge will require a whole of humanity approach, involving economic incentives, policy updates, disciplined lifestyles, scientific research, factory innovations, political will, and compelling ideologies. [Some narrative threads of the importance of recycling have already been part of naturalist religions like the worship of Gaia (earth, nature, fertility), and they have also been integrated by various thinkers into Christianity (a monotheistic religion) and Buddhism (a belief system about the human condition and the ability to achieve nirvana), along various lines of argument. A core idea involves stewardship.] Perhaps there are strengths and weaknesses in each social context, in knowing of how to approach these challenges. Also, there may be substitutes for plastics that are also sufficiently practical and efficient to use. (A simple one is to use washable dishes and tableware). Whatever changes are advanced, these have to be balanced against people’s livelihoods. Changes in one area may have implications on others, whether intended or unintended.

In the West where plastic recycling has been operationalized initially, people use recyclable machine-washable straws. Some restaurants have stopped enabling access to plastic straws while others enable access to paper straws. Plastic bags for grocery shopping are forbidden in some states in the U.S. Recycle bins capturing used consumer plastics are prevalent as are recycling centers. Municipalities have taken on recycling as a city service.

Future Research Directions

“Plastic recycling” in social media does seem to convey a fairytale about how recyclable plastics are or how easy it is to participate in the process (“mixed recycling” totes that do not require sorting). Ideally, people would clean out their plastics; ideally, they would soak off labels; ideally, they would bring their recyclables to a recycling station and not mix and cross-contaminate various materials. Still, to achieve awareness and buy-in, perhaps the fairytale sensibility is required.

Future research in this space may include other types of social media, such as particular user accounts, particular corporate accounts, and others, across multiple social media platforms. Perhaps additional platforms in the following explored types may be reviewed for this topic:

(1) a mass-scale digitized book corpus term frequency search, (2) a social video sharing site, (3 and 4) two social image sharing sites, (5) a crowd-sourced online encyclopedia, (6) a social networking site, (7) a microblogging site, and (8) a mass-scale search term analysis based on time-based associations with correlated search terms.

Or particular regionalisms may be explored, such as the senses of “plastic recycling” in urban vs. rural areas, or in a particular locale (municipalities, countries, regions, or others)…or within a particular culture…or within people groups. This issue would benefit from being mapped out in different ways.

Perhaps various social symbolism—visual, textual, and other modalities—may be explored in this space. What are analogies made to excessive plastic consumption? Plastic dumping? What is a symbol of a recycled object? How can the abstraction of frugality and self-denial and non-spending be portrayed as a luxury choice or a pious religious choices or a self-fulfilling healthy choice through symbols (like string bracelets and others shown on social media)?

Also, within this movement, are there “filter bubbles” (limitations of messaging intake) that may lead to extreme actions? Mass blame of others? Violent actions? And if so, what are the potential implications? What are ways to lessen extremist ideas in this space?


Mass attention is expensive to acquire, and it seems to be capture-able only a moment at a time. As to how people live ethically, there are many insights about this, across a range of topics and behaviors and choices. While the dumping of plastics seem like a physically local issue, it is actually a transnational and borderless one with plastics in the oceans (affecting all land masses via beaches, via weather cycles), with the costs and externalities of creating plastics, with health effects from ingested and inhaled microplastics, and other factors. The lifecycle of plastics involves various externalities. The world is as-yet far from any sort of “net zero” way of using plastic—even as there are creative ideas for plastics re-use and recycling and “rationing” and non-use. The current state of equilibrium is of mass consumption and limited mitigations.

International environmentalism is bolstered by the “international networks for communication, the sharing of information, and the sharing of resources among environmental NGOs” (Dalton & Rohrschneider, 1999, p. 16). Nations that are less green regarding this issue may adopt the standards “of their richer, greener grading partners” in what has been termed the “California effect” (Vogel, Dec. 1997, p. 556). Transnational environmental groups do better with a “big tent” approach, even among members with “internal conflicts and debates over core ideological questions” which are normal for larger organizations (Doherty, 2006, p. 860). Writ large, researchers suggest that there are “three principal kinds of environmental movement, the post-material movements strongest in the United States and Australia, the post-industrial movements that are strongest in Europe and the post-colonial movements of the South” on global scale (Doherty & Doyle, Nov. 2006, p. 697). People groups en masse arrive at different understandings and capabilities related to environmentalism in different contexts, and collaborations across those spaces will require empathy and accommodations on all sides to each other’s differences. The environmental identity is abstractly positive across a range of contexts, but on-ground, it is a highly contested role (and sometimes very dangerous for those with the environmentalist identity because of the sense of potential differentiated interests from other industries and practices—like farming and ranching). There is a fine balance between freeing types of intersectional collaborations and over-step into arrogance, given the importance of sovereignty.

There are environmental protection endeavors at the global level (the United Nations Environment Programme), transnational levels (many dozens of non-governmental organizations), national organizations (public and private sector organizations), and local ones. Each have different and sometimes overlapping constituencies, and social media play a critical role in their engagement. People on Earth have an important role to play to lessen the usage of plastics and to recycle what they use, within the limits of what is technologically possible. Social media inducements to engage constructively are potentially relevant to human awareness and motivations. However, at present, the plastics used in nondurable goods are mostly landfilled, with a small amount recycled (“Plastics: Material-specific data,” 2019).

Plastic or polymer recycling is inherently a transnational issue. The environmental and animal and human impacts cross borders, as do the supply chains, trade, and cross-border plastics recycling in bulk. Waiting for time and micro-organisms to potentially address the plastics issue, at least partially, is a non-starter because that timeline is too slow for the pace of human consumption, especially if it is to be sustainable and less-contaminating of the environment. Solving this issue of consumer plastics dumped into the world’s landfills and oceans is a hard problem that will require much more effort, coordination, resources, technologies, and time, to solve.

Ironically, plastics seem as popular as ever. Recent news accounts have highlighted the building of 3D-extruded plastic houses being built in the developing world, which also means that plastics will be much more common in the larger natural environment (Delbert, Dec. 12, 2019). Their low cost makes them the go-to choice for 3D printing and not other more biodegradable materials.

As to the social media aspect, some messaging is already being targeted toward children and youth, the upcoming generations. What can be compelling for those populations, and how can the messages be made appealing to individuals in these various groups? What mediated outreach campaigns can be more effective for such transnational advocacy? How can angel investors be encouraged to contribute to plastic recycling efforts through such social messaging? Practically, how can words and images and videos compel prosocial and pro-environmental behaviors to improve “one health” in terms of recyclable plastics or biodegradable plastics or lessened usage of plastics altogether?



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Key Terms 

Feedstock: Raw material for an industrial process

Microplastic: Small pieces of plastic resulting from the disposal and breakdown of plastic as well as created objects for consumer goods

Plastic (noun): A synthetic substance created from organic or synthetic polymers

Pyrolysis (gasification): Decomposing of a material through high temperatures

One Health: The concept of the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health across a range of health challenges


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