Dead bird with plastic in its stomach

Photo of a dead baby albatross whose stomach is filled with plastic, from the exhibition Midway: Message from the Gyre.

Chris Jordan

Part of the Institute’s Science Matters series, The Case of Plastics is a role-playing game in which students debate the positive and negative perspectives of plastics from all sides, from activists and manufacturers to regulators and recyclers.

Plastics are essential to how we currently live. Inexpensive and versatile, they have raised living standards, improved health and sanitation, and reduced demand on scarce natural resources. Yet they contribute to environmental degradation and potentially pose a risk to human health, causing many to question our current approach to plastics.

You have been invited to participate in a hearing regarding a proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regulation to reduce plastic waste in the United States. During the hearing, experts on all sides will argue for their position on plastics and will propose changes to the Regulation. The EPA Regulators will choose the regulation that best addresses the issue of plastic waste.

Plastic is a particularly controversial contributor to the country’s solid-waste problem because of its persistence in the environment. But plastics are also vital to scientific and economic development. The goal of this Regulation is thus to effectively reduce plastic waste in a practical, manageable way.


Plastic food bags

Dow Historical Collection, Science History Institute Archives

Get the Facts

Prepare for the debate by reading the background materials listed below. They will help you understand the science of plastics and the history of the conflict over plastics’ production, use, and disposal. Begin with the Introduction.

Make Your Case

Select your group from the menu above to access resources specific to your group and to learn about the other members of your group.

Teacher Resources

Download a PDF of the instructor’s manual for Science Matters: The Case of Plastics.