Recycled and thrown away plastic waste lay strewn across a table. To help reduce plastic waste, a Pepperdine professor and student researched the level of disgust people associate with single-use plastic waste. Photo by Ali Levens
From home delivery to curbside drop-off, Americans live in the time of takeout. No dishes, no cross-contamination, no problem, right? Wrong.
Research partners Sarah Fischbach, assistant professor of Integrated Marketing Communication, and Eesha Tripathi, senior Business Administration major and Marketing minor, pioneered a two-part educational survey that measures the level of disgust people associate with single-use plastic waste during COVID-19.
“It’s not that plastic is bad, it’s that we are in this disposable society of throwing things away,” Fischbach said. “We need to make small changes that will hopefully make big effects.”
As an incentive, Tripathi said environmental thank you packages — featuring a card and a reusable patch — will be mailed to each participant.
Since her Pepperdine tenure began, Fischbach said she has worked on research projects surrounding single-use plastic for three years. A “Green Dreamer” podcast featuring the Plastic Pollution Coalition and the absurd amounts of Amazon packing waste sparked her interest in reducing plastic waste.
Fischbach’s first partnership with then-students Timothy Good (2019) and Elizabeth MacCoy (2019) was a call to action for on-campus students, published in the Pepperdine Journal of Communication Research in April 2019. Taking the research “one step further,” Fischbach began working alongside senior Sofia Lauraya in 2020. The pair had a non-Pepperdine population watch a video then answer questions about perception toward sustainability.
Alumna Grace Dryer (2020) brought in the topic of disgust when considering reusable cotton swabs, which was then followed by Fischbach’s partnership with Tripathi concerning plastic waste from COVID-19. Through three years of research, Fischbach acquired data about perception changes about plastic and sustainability before, during and after COVID-19.
Fischbach wrote the pair are studying the variables of disgust, sustainable consumers and student transformative learning.
“We’re hoping that we see shifts in peoples’ thought process towards sustainability,” Fischbach said. “We want to use that measure of disgust to see if it’s gotten better or worse.”
Beyond the university, Fiscbach said she and her team aim to publish their research by the end of April in the Journal of Consumer Research and present at the Association of Consumer Researchers conference in the fall. Fischbach’s team collected four different groups of data and is in the process of collecting a fifth.
In an effort to curb plastic pollution, Tripathi said she aspires the research will show that not using single-use plastic packaging is “perfectly hygienic, perfectly safe, perfectly clean.”
“It’s just excessive, excessive levels of packaging in the name of safety,” Tripathi said. “That really ties into the survey, like, ‘Why do we perceive things that have been wrapped in plastic as so much more safe?’”
Tripathi has observed large misconceptions surrounding the health and safety of plastics for humans, like ingesting microplastics and chemicals in plastics.
“It’s not about litter,” Tripathi said. “It’s about this twofold, threefold impact on a lot of our environment.”
For the future, Tripathi said she wants more worldwide education, especially teaching geared toward children, about environmentalism since bad practices have led to a “dramatic effect on our health and on our environment.”
“It is a habit,” Tripathi said. “Once you start using plastic water bottles, it can be hard to switch back to drinking from the tap or getting a Britta.”
While working with other faculty worldwide, Fischbach said it was “sad” that some members of other countries thought this issue was “an American thing.” Fischbach is a part of the University of California San Diego Scripps Institute of Oceanography solutions program to further educate transnationally.
“We need to make it [applicable] everywhere so everybody might care about what’s going into the ocean,” Fischbach said.
Take the survey here.
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