Media coverage of plastic pollution in Scotland and Australia: Finding solutions through online entertainment and gamification
School of Humanities, University of Strathclyde &
Western Sydney University, Australia
Uzma Aleem, a journalist turned academic, loves to combine her media industry’s experience with her research projects. Earth Scholarship’s research project also reflects her journalistic flare under the supervision of veteran researcher Prof. Lesley Henderson. Uzma Aleem is a third year PhD student at Western Sydney University, Australia. Besides this she works as lecturer at Macquarie University, Sydney.
Uzma Aleem is a third-year doctoral researcher at Western Sydney University, Australia. Uzma’s research interests lie in environmental journalism, media and communication, and plastic pollution management.
During her EARTH Scholarship exchange, Uzma was based at the University of Strathclyde, exploring media coverage of plastic pollution in Scotland and Australia. These insights can be used to address plastic pollution solutions through the use of online entertainment and gamification. The project aims to support knowledge exchange across Europe and Oceania by proposing a comparative awareness creation model regarding plastic pollution between Scotland and Australia, using the Scottish framework of climate change induced by plastic waste as a springboard.
Since 1960 with the inception of plastic, out of the 9.2 billion metric tons of plastic, only 09 % plastic was re-cycled and more than 7 billion metric tons became part of land fills and eventually reached to the final sink on earth i.e. oceans (2018). Plastic pollution exacerbates the situation of climate change as it contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases at all three stages of its life cycle: production and use of plastic, disposal and mis-management of plastic waste, biobased plastics deteriorate the environment, as it affects the environment by the carbon emission (Ford, et al., 2022). Extremely limited efforts to fight the hazards of anthropogenic plastic pollution are insufficient (Vuleta, 2022) as today humankind is confronting the Ocean Armageddon (Henderson L. , 2018).
Undoubtedly, advocacy and information dissemination through mass media play a substantial role to address the biggest challenge of plastic pollution (Keller & Wyles, 2021; Henderson L. , 2019) and climate change ((UNEP), 2007). Thus, this research study attempts to find solutions to the perils of plastic waste amid climate change while drawing a comparison of social media feeds of mainstream media news outlets in Australia and Scotland on this issue. It aims to develop an understanding of narrative for environmental action to combat plastic perils through news feeds in the form of tweets by the officials handles of ABC News and BBC News.
With the growth of industrialisation, certain anthropocentric activities have made irreversible changes to the environment of earth and plastic pollution can be considered as the worst. Since 1960 with the inception of plastic, out of the 9.2 billion metric tons of plastic, only 09 % plastic was re-cycled and more than 7 billion metric tons became part of land fills and eventually reached to the final sink on earth i.e. oceans (2018). Moreover, the mismanagement of plastic waste is evidently the environmental determinants of health risks, the plastic wastes after becoming the part of landfills and waterways pose major threat to human health (Hendlin, 2018)
Plastic pollution exacerbates the situation of climate change as it contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases at all three stages of its life cycle: production and use of plastic, disposal and mis-management of plastic waste, biobased plastics deteriorate the environment, as biodegradable biobased plastic affect the environment by the carbon emission (Ford, et al., 2022).
Assessment reports of organisations such as the United Nations Environmental Programme (2019), Environment Protection Agency of the US (EPA, 2022), warned the world about the devastating potential impacts of climate change and plastic pollution (Chhabra, 2022).
However, some of the European countries such as Scotland attempt to target the issue of climate change with a wise approach as Scotland ranks among the best countries for sustainability measures on the climate change index (Llp, 2022). Whereas many developed countries are still struggling to frame a consistent environment policy; Australia is criticised for its coal power plants and political leadership seems divided on the issue of decarbonised economy with more than 70 % Australians’ major concern is climate change (Patrick, Garad, Snell, Enticott, & Meadows, 2021). Scotland’s attempt to decarbonise more rapidly than any other Group 20 country can reflect that decarbonisation is an achievable goal (Boneham, 2021).
Though the issue of plastic pollution has become a part of public discourse due to the mainstream media coverage (Henderson L. , 2019) and the success of Blue Planet – British documentary series – is an indication of this fact (Ruddick, 2017). However, extremely limited efforts to fight the hazards of anthropogenic plastic pollution are insufficient (Vuleta, 2022) as today humankind is confronting the Ocean Armageddon (Henderson L. , 2018).
Undoubtedly, advocacy and information dissemination through mass media play a substantial role to address the biggest challenge of plastic pollution (Keller & Wyles, 2021; Henderson L. , 2019) and climate change ((UNEP), 2007). Moreover, media coverage can help in behaviour change and attitude formation of people regarding significant environmental issues (Pasquaré & Oppizzi, 2012). Media exposure does not mean that people would be aware on the issue of climate change, plastic waste, marine pollution and landfills (Yang, Chen, & Ho, 2020). Several studies also reflect the sporadic media coverage of environmental issues including plastic pollution (Hansen & Liu, 2018). For many people it is easily considered as a ‘far away’ issue or more like something ‘on screen’ rather than an immediate threat to humans around globe (Henderson & Green, 2020). If the influence of mainstream news media remains limited due to the disaster-based event driven coverage of environmental issues then potential of digital media in terms of entertainment and gamification for highlighting the threats of environmental issues (plastic pollution) can be explored (Ritterfeld & Weber, 2006; Martín del Pozo, Basilotta Gómez-Pablos, & Muñoz-Repiso, 2017). Evidence suggests that gamification has a key role to play in shifting attitudes and awareness of diverse issues. As a previous study found that online games played a significant role in raising agricultural environmental awareness (Yongyuth, Prada, Nakasone, Kawtrakul, & Prendinger, 2010).
Thus, this research study will attempt to find solutions to the perils of plastic waste amid climate change while drawing a comparison of social media feeds of mainstream media in Australia and Scotland on this issue. The principal objectives of this study are to:
- Explore and compare the media coverage of environmental impacts of plastic pollutants amid climate change through the tweets of mainstream news media outlets ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) and BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) in Scotland and Australia,
- Recommend solutions (regarding online entertainment and gamification domains) to combat the threats of plastic pollution.
Although, plastic pollution and climate change is being highlighted in Scottish mainstream media yet unable to explain its immediate threats to humans around the globe and usually ignored by common people (Henderson & Green, 2020). It is tough to analyse how the impact of media coverage on the plastics pollution and micro-plastics in marine environment is translated in the perception of audiences, however a link can be established between emerging social norms and plastic use (Koelmans, Pahl, Backhaus, Henderson, & Kalcikova, 2019) however there is lack of literature on the plastic waste amid climate change.
Moreover, plastic pollution and its impacts are not only one country’s problem. Climate change is a global phenomenon and plastic use is common around the world. In contrast to this, most of the current research is skewed towards national policies and regulations and little information is available on cross country programs. Therefore, the need for drawing comparative results is imperative to go forward in plastic pollution and climate change research. It would be in the interest of future researchers to draw a comparison between Scotland and other developed countries like Australia through this study.
As a previous study found that online games played a significant role in raising agricultural environmental awareness (Yongyuth, Prada, Nakasone, Kawtrakul, & Prendinger, 2010). It is significant to note that since future generations are going to be most impacted through climate change induced by plastic waste (Gillian, 2013). Therefore, digital media and gamification should be used that has the most influence on younger population. Gamification stimulates innovative thinking among users that leads to problem solving (Deterding, 2012).
With the 55 percent people of total world’s population as internet users and 88 percent of the households in Scotland with the access of internet (Hassan & Barrow, 2019), online media can be used to impact masses about the sensitive environmental issue of plastic pollution. The most internet users are young people as 45% internet users are under 25 years age (ITU, 2013), and they are also the widest consumers of games and online entertainment. With the huge number of digital media users who are school kids, we must utilise this online media in education (Buckingham, 2007). The decision of implementing Prodigy – an online game based platform – as a tool of education raised the level of achievements among elementary school kids in the USA (Morrison, Risman, Reilly, & Eisinger, 2020). Certain research studies indicated the impact of online entertainment such as internet games on attitude formation and behaviour change (Ernkvist & Ström, 2008). Use of online games helped in raising awareness about social and educational issues among university students (Turner, Johnston, Kebritchi, Evans, & Heflich, 2018).
Systematic literature review (SLR) of relevant body of knowledge available on four major databases (ProQuest Central, EBSCO, Directory of Open Access Journal & Science Direct) has been conducted by following PRISMA protocol. Initially, 2,338 research articles were tracked with keyword search of “plastic” and “public health” and “environmental impact”, however, afterward only 08 research articles (peer-reviewed and open access articles in English language) – followed by the keywords search of climate change, plastic pollution, and environmental impact along keeping in view the currency of the existing body of knowledge that were published during the last five years – have been found. It reflects a huge gap in the existing body of knowledge about the environmental impact of plastic pollution amid climate change.
People’s perceptions of environmental issues including plastic pollution are typically measured using surveys, such as the Climate Change in the American Mind project (Leiserowitz, 2012); the Attitude of Europeans on Biodiversity (EU, 2015) and Public attitudes towards plastics in Australia (Hoffman, 2019), but the exploding popularity of social networks presents a new opportunity to study the public discourse on plastic perils and its spatiotemporal patterns in relation to its environmental impact amid the events of climate catastrophe.
Therefore, this study can provide a base to understand whether social network platforms of mainstream news media outlets in the UK and Australia are building environmental narratives related to plastic pollution among young web users or not?
This cross-country analysis of social networks between Australia and the UK under the issue attention cycle helps in proposing novel solutions to explore the environmental narrative across two different cultures and countries.
People come to Twitter for many reasons. As it turns out, one of the biggest is to stay informed about current events. Whether it’s politics, world & local news, entertainment, sports, technology, climate change/environment, or health & wellness, Twitter has become home to some of the most relevant conversations about news and current events happening around the world (Twitter, 2022). For nearly every news organization, Twitter has become a regular part of the daily news outreach (PEW, 2022). Among the social networks, Twitter is one of the largest microblogging services. The architecture of Twitter makes the question “What’s happening?” the cornerstone of information exchange.
Being the leading news channel in the UK, BBC News (UK) twitter account also leads and it has 15.1 million followers, similarly, being the leading news channel in Australia, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News, twitter account of ABC News has 2.2 million followers.
The following content analysis has five multi-dimensional analytical categories to thoroughly examine the social networking website and to develop an understanding of narrative for environmental action to combat plastic perils through news feeds in the form of tweets by the officials handles of ABC News and BBC News.
To develop new constructs under the theoretical realm of issue attention cycle, researchers are using an extensive quantitative and qualitative approach for developing a content analysis framework.
This research will propose a novel theoretical foundation for future research and extend knowledge in the field of environmental communication and to recommend practical solutions for plastic pollution for future generations.
Tweets by BBC News (UK) and ABC News followed by the news regarding the discovery of microplastics found in human blood for first time in March 2022.
Only the news feeds in the form of tweets with the words of plastic pollution; perils of plastic; and environmental impact of plastic will be analysed.
Analytical Categories Description
Storyline Who is the source of tweet on ABC News & BBC News?
Is it bylined or just taken over from other source?
Space: text is short, medium, long
Text is hashtagged or not
Type of tweet: scientific or general
Coverage Event driven coverage (news feed in the form of tweet after some environmental crisis, political statement, seminar, conference, or happening etc) versus issue driven coverage (Consistent coverage keeping in view the severity or seriousness of the environmental crisis associated with plastic pollution regardless of some event or happening)
Topics types of plastic debris that pollute the world’s oceans: microplastics1, macroplastics2, fishing gear, beverage containers, single use vapes & cigarette butts, and lost or abandoned vessels.
Impact of plastic pollution is highlighted in terms of one / more of the following issues: Air pollution, water pollution, water scarcity, impact of Pollution on health, industrial waste exposure, solid waste, climate change, environmental crisis, natural disaster (due to climate change), nature (marine life, wild life, flora and fauna), Rangeland degradation and desertification, deforestation, any other
Characters Characters are subjects in the text, the main actors of the tweets like experts/scientists, politicians/other state actors, victims, survivors, others
Context Context of the tweets:
Solution Centered (Call for Action, solution provided )
Versus Problem Centered (No call for action, just problem given)