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In art, plastics is often portrayed as waste and littering

Plastic art on a beach. Photo: Pixabay.
Plastic art often illustrates problems such as littering or disposable use. Image: Pixabay.

A wound in nature, cheap rubbish and dangerous for animals and humans. This is how plastic is presented in visual art and photography around the world, finds a new study. But according to the researchers, some problems are not illustrated. The study is co-authored by LUCSUS researcher Sara Ullström.

Together with four research colleagues, Sara Ullström, has in a study identified five interconnected problems linked to society's use of plastic: the toxicity of the material, disposable use, dependence on fossil raw materials, the long duration of the plastic, and the litter that plastic gives rise to. The researchers analysed 35 different works of art and exhibitions to see which elements or problems related to plastic they presented. The study is presented in the journal Global Sustainability.

The results show that a majority of the works highlight elements such as littering and disposable use. Many works also suggested that our consumption and the way we handle plastic are the main causes of these problems. The works of art, on the other hand, focused less on the link between plastic and climate change, overproduction, material toxicity and recycling.

- Not only established artists, but also private individuals can now influence and create change through works of art and photographs. If other parts of society, such as politicians, industry and interest groups, begin to pay attention to several aspects of the plastic problem, I believe that in the long run we will see a more varied plastic art. We believe that more issues can contribute to more knowledge and a more insightful commitment, says one of the authors, Moa Petersén, researcher at the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences at Lund University.

Read the full article (In Swedish) at


About the researcher

Sara Ullström

Sara Ullström is a doctoral student at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS). She holds a bachelor degree in political science and a master’s degree in applied climate change strategies, both from Lund University. Her research focuses on the role of narratives and individual lifestyle changes in sustainability transitions.

Read more about Sara Ullström's research.