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Conflicts in Chemistry: The Case of Plastics

Science History Institute/Conrad Erb

Discover this role-playing game in which students debate the positive, negative, and conflicting perspectives of plastics from all sides, from activists and manufacturers to regulators and recyclers.

Plastics are essential to life as we know it. 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.

The Case of Plastics, a Role-Playing Game

The Case of Plastics considers the positive, negative, and conflicting perspectives of plastics through a debate of the issues. Students adopt the roles of characters representing positions on all sides of the plastics debate, from activists to manufacturers, and then debate ways that the production, use, and disposal of plastics should or should not be regulated.

The game teaches students to understand multiple perspectives on plastics and to recognize the complex issues facing today’s policy makers. The project also emphasizes the role of history in the formation of policy. By understanding the history of plastics, the changes brought about by plastics, and the historical context for their characters’ positions, students are better able to engage in the contemporary debate.

The Case of Plastics has been developed as a role-playing game for implementation in high-school chemistry classrooms. However, the game can also be implemented in college settings, in high-school social studies classes, and in crossdisciplinary projects or clubs.

The Case of Plastics microsite serves as the main portal for students to access everything they need to play the game. 

Sponsors and Credits

  • Conflicts in Chemistry: The Case of Plastics has been supported by Heritage Philadelphia, a program of the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.
  • Support for Conflicts in Chemistry has also been provided by The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation Special Grant Program in the Chemical Sciences.
  • Banner photo of students debating the issues by Conrad Erb.