Plastic Waste Management in Asia and Beyond

The past 6 months of this university degree, particularly those spent in the subject BCM320 (Digital Asia, for those reading outside of the university echo-chamber) has been a time of significant personal growth and development when it comes to my approach to research. A concept known as ‘auto-ethnographic research” has become a regular frequenter of my vocabulary, and its apparent value yet previous underestimation has become profound.

This concept has seen me, through numerous artefacts and blog posts, examine the culture, nature and prevalence of Asia, using my own “personal cultural framework” as a foundation upon which to build my appreciation and understanding. Ellis et. al explain the importance of this practice, arguing that “auto-ethnographers… must use personal experience to illustrate facets of cultural experience, and, in so doing, make characteristics of a culture familiar for insiders and outsiders.” (Ellis et. al, 2011).

For this final digital artefact, I have decided to examine the prevalence of plastic waste in Asia and ongoing management strategies which have been implemented and continue to evolve. The initial idea for this project came after an epiphany I had whilst watching the documentary Peloton Against Plastic. This film not only highlighted the significant environmental and health issues that plastic waste causes in Southeast Asia, but also brought into context the role that waste produced in developed countries (such as Australia) plays in this phenomenon. Consequentially, from the very onset I found myself approaching this research from within my own cultural framework as it was something I was able to witness in my own backyard, and is something frequently debated in the media which I engage with. Following China’s ban on imports of plastic waste in July 2017, Southeast Asia has, in particular, become a dumping ground for the plastic waste of much wealthier countries. As Marks (2019) argues, “seventy-five per cent of globally exported waste ends up in Asia… [with] single-use plastic consumption still worryingly high in these countries and comprehensive bans or taxes, such as on single-use bags, few to non-existent.”

Following this and numerous other epiphanies, I began to ponder ways in which I could become a “participant observer” in this research. Ellis et. al. (2011) argue that this is a crucial factor in deepening the work of the researcher “by taking field notes of cultural happenings as well as their part in and others’ engagement with these happenings”.

In turn, I began to work as part of the UOW Student Makerspace Recycling Initiative Team (UOW SMRI), which is building a plastic shredder almost identical to the one shown in the documentary. This machine has the ability to shred leftover plastic 3D printing filament into smaller pellets which can later be extruded and then melted down to be either reused for 3D printing, or repurposed into new and innovative materials.

The work I have done for this digital artefact is difficult to summarise in only 500 words, particularly as the research will be ongoing through my continued involvement with the UOW SMRI. If I’ve taken one thing away from this semester it is this: In order to successfully examine the happenings, practices or any other features of a culture different from my own, looking at it from within my own personal cultural framework as a foundation upon which to build my knowledge is not only feasible, but greatly encouraged.


Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. Available at:

Marks, D 2019, ‘Southeast Asia’s plastic waste problem’, East Asia Forum, online essay, 26 June, viewed 25 October 2019, available at

Published by susiealdermann

Fifth Year Bachelor of Communications and Media/ Bachelor of International Studies (Dean's Scholar) student

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