Published 2021-03-10

This post is also available in Swedish

Pupils’ interest roused by Mistra’s book on plastic

In 2020, Mistra launched the book ‘No one gets away from plastic: paths to more sustainable use of plastic’. Ida Hägerby at Västra School in Kalmar is one of many teachers around Sweden who have ordered the book to use it in their teaching.

During the autumn, Ida Hägerby, teacher of chemistry and biology at Västra School in Kalmar, used the book Ingen kommer undan plasten (‘No one gets away from plastic’) with her pupils in Year 9.

Ida Hägerby, teacher of chemistry and biology at Västra School in Kalmar.

‘Lots of pupils find work on organic chemistry boring. It tends to be abstract. So I had the idea that we could work on plastic, a material that we all encounter in our everyday lives. The class pupils got the print book and then chose for themselves which bits to immerse themselves in.’

Some of the pupils focused on plastic in relation to food or clothes, and interviewed people in food and clothing stores. Others looked more at plastic in the oceans, littering and production. All the pupils could choose their own form of presentation. Some made films and others podcasts, or submitted written work, Hägerby says.

‘The book comprised lots of facts that got the pupils interested and involved. It made them see context and perspective, but also dilemmas. Topics ranged from comparisons between plastic and cloth shopping bags to what emissions a plastic bag generates compared with driving to the shops, and how much food is wasted unless plastic packaging protects the food. The fact boxes appealed to the pupils, making the situation visually clear with their diagrams and illustrations. The book highlighted the latest research — things you don’t read about in the media — and conveyed hopes for the future, too.’

‘Reassuring for me as a teacher’

Hägerby hopes to use the book once again for her next Year 9 class this autumn. The hope is to then be able to get out more with the pupils and look at production of materials and goods, for example. She would also have liked the book to be combined with short films in which researchers talk about the problems of plastic and the research that needs doing, since many pupils are triggered by visual material. For five years she has worked as a teacher, and before that she was in the business sector. She believes that awareness of the environmental and climate issue among secondary school pupils could have been higher.

‘Having a book based on science to start from is reassuring for me as a teacher. Plastic will continue to be a good theme and it also got the less ambitious pupils working, precisely because it’s such a big part of everyday life. When I work on various projects, I involve the whole family. I’ve advised my husband to read the book,’ says Hägerby with a laugh.

Mistra’s aim of boosting knowledge about plastic

The goal of Ingen kommer undan plasten – Vägar mot en mer hållbar plastanvändning (‘No one gets away from plastic: Paths to more sustainable use of plastic’) is to sum up knowledge of plastic and demonstrate the material’s complex pros and cons both for us humans and for the environment. The book is based on the latest research, particularly from the Mistra STEPS and REES research programmes, but also from Mistra Environmental Nanosafety and the discontinued Mistra Closing the Loop and Future Fashion programmes.

In the book, experts discuss plastic from several angles: from littering to clothing, food packaging to plastic reduction, and bioplastics to recovery and recycling. Old truisms are questioned and new perspectives presented.

One topic raised is the problems posed by microplastics and their health risks to humans, animals and other organisms. The history of plastic in Sweden and how plastic packaging reduces food wastage are other aspects clarified in the book. Readers also get a glimpse into the future and the bioplastics research in progress — notably future-oriented polymer research on making bioplastic from carbon dioxide.

The book was commissioned by Mistra. Per Westergård is the editor, and the writers are Henrik Lundström, Thomas Heldmark and Per Westergård. It is available as a print book and on a dedicated website, both designed by Typoform.

Read more about ‘No one gets away from plastic’ (the whole book, in Swedish, can be downloaded here).