Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Ecosystem Science and Policy (Graduate)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Meryl Shriver-Rice

Second Committee Member

Gina Maranto

Third Committee Member

Hunter Vaughan


Plastic pollution emerged as a landmark environmental issue in the last few years, and as such, has appeared in environmental media. This thesis examines the representations of plastic pollution in environmental communication campaigns, social media of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), environmental campaigns created by the advertising industry, corporate environmentalism efforts, and media from concerned individuals. While plastic materials began as a way to mimic materials found in nature, their ubiquity, heavy promotion from petrochemical companies, and widespread adoption as single-use disposables outpaced waste disposal measures. NGOs and nonprofits unite under networked environmental campaigns, invoke agenda-setting theory, and favor framing that features ocean life and marine debris. Single-use plastic straws, spurred by a viral video of a sea turtle and work from organizations like Lonely Whale, have become emblematic of plastic pollution as a whole. Plastic pollution campaigns from NGOs and advertisers and often lack clarity and calls-to-action. Among the corporations embracing anti-plastic efforts, Starbucks, Adidas, and 4ocean have differing levels of greenwashing and may or may not create a social energy penalty. Irony and self-reflexivity, as well as plastic pollution's connection to climate change, may provide avenues for environmental communication. System-based anti-plastic communication and efforts may have more of an impact than those that promote individual lifestyle changes and focus on a single item.


plastic pollution; environmental communication; greenwashing; environmental campaigns; plastic straws; environmental media