Large cities such as New York produced millions of tonnes of waste materials every year. The city relies on a wide network of waste and sanitation workers to collect waste materials from citizens and industries that includes hazardous, biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste such as single-use plastics. According to Bates (83), Seattle became the first state to ban the use of single-use plastics because residents of the city, and other cities such as London, were disposing of more than 5 billion drinking straws and other plastics annually. The plastics are hazardous to the environment because they are non-biodegradable. Consequently, the study asked the participants what were their perceptions of a hypothetical ban on the use of such plastics. Additionally, the participants were asked if they had witnessed the single-use plastics having negative impacts on the environment.
The study was mainly qualitative in nature because it used a phenomenological approach to gain data from the participants. A short interview schedule containing questions that are relevant to the study was used to collect data from the participants. According to Smith (33), a qualitative phenomenological study seeks to identify the subjective lived experiences of study participants by evaluating their structure of consciousness directly. The data that was collected was evaluated using a color coding analysis to identify the main themes and an interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA). Once this process, was complete the findings were summarized based on their relevance to the research questions.
Using a qualitative research design and phenomenological research methodology turned out to be very effective because it was congruent to the main research question. Specifically, the study sought to investigate whether the city cleaners had noticed the disadvantages of using single-use plastics on the environment in their official capacity. According to Smith (33), a qualitative study is an effective mode of inquiry because it considers the subjective feelings, attitudes or behaviors of participants in its evaluation. The study was able to collect a wide range of responses or perceptions on the environmental impacts of single-use plastics on New York’s environmental resources.
It is important to note that the study was also affected by several challenges such as reluctance or unwillingness of the target population to participate in the study and the need to cover considerable ground to meet study participants. Most of the respondents who were targeted were initially unwilling and afraid of participating in the study. Smith (193) stated that providing informed consent helps to overcome the barriers of recruiting participants because it explains the nature or limitations of their involvement and the scope of the study. After explaining the purpose of the study and the ethical considerations that had been put in place, the study was able to get willing volunteers. It was hard accessing participants because cleaners were scattered all across the vast city using zoning codes.
The findings were largely consistent with what already written on available literature. Participants in the study reported that a hypothetical ban on the single-use plastics would reduce their workload because they constitute more than half of the volume of dirt that they collect every day. Borrelle et al. (9994) reported that the high utilization rate of single-use plastics in urban areas and their unsustainable disposal had led to considerable soil and water pollution all over the world. Additionally, the respondents also reported that they had seen animals either being chocked or trapped by plastic materials while on duty. The fact that these findings are consistent with what has already been written on the topic shows that the chosen mode of inquiry was very effective.
However, it was surprising that the study participants did not all agree on the need to ban the plastics from being used in the city like in many other urban areas. Considering that they all agreed to have seen the devastating impact that the plastics were having on the environment, one would have expected that the decision to ban them would be unanimous. The contrasting views confirm that a qualitative phenomenological approach is an effective tool for evaluating the subjective experiences or view of study participants (Smith 34). The audience of the research findings is able to know through the collected data that even though the participants share similar experiences, they have different perceptions on the problem being investigated. Most of the participants who did not support the ban were afraid that the costs of their favorite products would increase.
If I had an opportunity, I would modify the study by including a wide sample population that includes city dwellers as well as the city cleaners. The reason for expanding the sample pool is to know whether the views of the people causing the population are similar or different to those who have to clean up the waste. In conclusion, the study sought to identify the impact of single-use plastics on New York’s environment from the perspective of the city’s cleaners. The qualitative phenomenological approach was very successful in the study because it showed the subjective views of the participants based on the view, beliefs and experiences. In the future, I would expand the sample population to include the residents of the city as well.
Bates, Albert. Transforming Plastic: From Pollution to Evolution. GroundSwell Books, 2019.
Borrelle, Stephanie B. et al. “Opinion: Why We Need An International Agreement On Marine Plastic Pollution”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 114, no. 38, 2017, pp. 9994-9997. doi:10.1073/pnas.1714450114.
Smith, Jonathan A., ed. Qualitative psychology: A practical guide to research methods. Sage, 2015.