Step 1: Mass Media and the Public Perception of the Problem
Mass media’s role in making the issues of plastic pollution known to the general public in recent years has been significant. The news hit the headlines of numerous tabloids, prompting a public outcry and stimulating research in the field. According to McCombs (2018), the last five years saw more research dedicated to plastic pollution than all previous decades combined. At the same time, the media’s attention was stimulated by the demand by teens and young adults, who are concerned about the state of the environment. Researchers and the media have been aware of the problem since the early 1970s and did very little to make the situation known to the general public (McCombs, 2018). Because of the decades of silence in the media, plastic pollution has become an obscure and non-essential ecological issue.
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Step 2: Historical, Racial, and Socioeconomic Factors about Media Coverage
The reason why plastic pollution gained traction only during the 21st century is directly connected to the invention of the Internet and the technological advances in electronics. During the 1970s, when plastic pollution was discovered to be an issue by the first researchers in the field, access to information was primarily controlled by newspapers and radio and TV news programs. According to (McCombs 2018), plastic-producing companies purposefully silenced any scientific or public concerns about plastic pollution, instead emphasizing the versatility and economic efficiency of plastic products, ushering an age of single-use cups, plastic bags, and water bottles.
Social location, social class, gender, and race play a crucial role in the fraction of awareness about the issue. Historically, poor individuals and localities are more exposed to environmental hazards than the economically privileged classes. The article written by Banzhaf, Ma, and Timmins (2019) addresses the issue of the disproportionately negative effect of pollution depending on race and place. In China and the US alike, poor individuals often find their localities neglected by social services, placed next to garbage dumps, and forced to drink food and eat water contaminated by plastic (Banzhaf et al., 2019).
Black and Hispanic individuals are among the most affected nationalities in the US, with the average age of vulnerability ranging between 1 to 30 years (Banzhaf et al., 2019). The significance of plastic pollution on the lives of these people is significant, as it causes direct damage to their health and livelihood, resulting in shorter lifespans, economic losses, and healthcare deficiencies.
Step 3: Regional Susceptibility to Plastic Pollution
Plastic pollution is inherently connected to the issue of ocean pollution, as 80% of all plastic pollution invariably ends up in the ocean (Singh & Cooper, 2017Powerful ocean currents serve as primary ways of transportation of plastic pollutants and fragments, scattering them all over the world. Also, all of the significant plastic dumps are currently located in the ocean. Jambeck et al. (2015) report all of the essential locations most susceptible to the adverse effects of plastic pollution.
These include the eastern coasts of China, India, and Malaysia, which are the closest to the sites of plastic dumps (Jambeck et al., 2015). Western shores of India are also affected by plastic pollution due to coastal inputs. The European continent is affected by plastic deposits found in the Baltic, Black, and Mediterranean seas. The US coasts in the west are polluted by plastic from large shipping operations in the area, whereas in the East, plastic pollution is associated with the production of oil products (Jambeck et al., 2015). The situation is most likely to escalate in China and the majority of coastal Asian countries first, US second, and Europe – third. Australian, African, and South American continents are less likely to be affected by plastic pollution due to their relative distance away from the significant dumping sites.
Banzhaf, S., Ma, L., & Timmins, C. (2019). Environmental justice: The economics of race, place, and pollution. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 33(1), 185-208.
Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A.,… Law, K. L. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 347(6223), 768-771.
McCombs, M. (2018). Setting the agenda: Mass media and public opinion. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Singh, J., & Cooper, T. (2017). Towards a sustainable business model for plastic shopping bag management in Sweden. Procedia CIRP, 61, 679-684.