We all know that plastic waste is filling up the oceans. But exactly why is this handy, cheap and easily moldable material so bad for the natural world? How are different plastics created and what real life dangers do they pose for wildlife, the environment and our society? What are microplastics anyway? More to the point, what can we do about them?
These are just some of the thorny questions that the Ocean Plastics Curriculum aims to teach its students about. The recently launched Ocean Plastics Curriculum, run by the EPIC Academy, takes the format of many MOOCs (massive open online course). It is wholly online and can be signed up for for free any time, from anywhere in the world. The course is completely free, and highly versatile: it's suitable for those aged 14 and up, and is designed for both group and individual learning.
The content is largely geared towards groups and classrooms, encouraging collective reflection on topics covered as well as providing ideas for group activities. This makes it ideal for those teaching classes. However, it's entirely possible to make use of the materials as an individual too, and each module finishes with a short quiz to test learners’ knowledge. While a lot of the material isn't original and is gleaned from other sources – such as videos from media houses including National Geographic and CNBC – it is curated carefully, making the learning process easy and comprehensive. Despite being run by a Canadian organisation, the course is largely US-focused, with much of the material taking a Northern American perspective.
While the interface is sometimes clunky, especially for individual learners who’ll need to fast-forward through the many group activities, the structure itself is straightforward and laid out neatly. Every lesson takes between 1 and 2 hours, amounting to 10-20 hours altogether. The material is available in English, French and Spanish. What's striking about this course is its interdisciplinary nature: it explores not only the scientific and technical background of plastics, but also the political and economic complexities involved – for example, by examining the shifting trade relationship of world superpowers China and the US with regards to recycling.
The course kicks off with an overview of plastics, how and why they're created, and merges scientific background with the political and economic forces at play. The second part of the course offers a distinctly practical emphasis, encouraging students to learn about hands-on advocacy and community engagement. There's a good balance overall, between individual responsibility and systemic, collective action on tackling the issue - while the course encourages individuals to take action to reduce their own plastic consumption, they also make it clear that it's the big institutions that have a huge part to play in the problem, also encouraging people to lobby for policy changes in government, local manufacturers, companies. Online certificates are awarded to those who complete each of the two parts. Each comes with a unique QR code, which links to details about the student’s achievement.
The course is part of the EPIC Academy, a solution-based platform to combat plastic pollution, which is designed and developed by a Canadian NGO called Ocean Legacy. One point of note is that the organisation mentions they are collaborating with Nestlé Global Waters to develop their current international plastic management strategy. Apart from parent company Nestlé's appalling environmental and human rights record, Nestlé Global Waters itself has a chequered reputation, largely due to its commodification of many natural water supplies (which the company then sells en masse in plastic bottles). The links between EPIC Academy and Nestlé aren't clear from their website alone, and EPIC Academy did not respond for comment on the precise nature of their relationship with Nestlé Global Waters.
You can enroll for the Ocean Plastics Educational Curriculum right here.