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Plastics: Impacts and Action

Plastics: Impacts and Action Online Course 

March 14 - April 10, 2022
Watch for next course offering. Fall course schedule will be posted in August 2022.

Read about the course and FAQs below.




This course explores our social and environmental relationships with plastics and uses plastics to help understand the complex dynamic systems shaping our planet and our lives. During the course we will use critical and systems thinking while learning about everything from the plastic lifecycle, to plastic's social and environmental impacts, to NGO and government plastics policies. You will apply your knowledge by designing and implementing a locally-relevant action targeting plastic pollution. Such projects may include working for policy changes at schools or workplaces, art projects, reuse initiatives, and so much more! This is a unique opportunity to be part of an online learning community taking action against plastic pollution.

The course is largely asynchronous--meaning you can access the short lectures, readings, and other materials when it’s convenient for you. We also hold weekly webinars (recorded for those who can’t make it) as well as optional weekly office hours.


An experienced and dynamic team from Cornell University Civic Ecology Lab: Bethany Jorgensen (PhD Candidate), Marianne Krasny (Professor), Yue Li (Research Associate), and Kim Snyder (Course Administrator), Wanying Wu and Kun Wang (Chinese teaching assistants), plus 10 Chinese language assistants.

The primary course instructor is Bethany Jorgensen, a PhD candidate in the Civic Ecology Lab in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at Cornell University. She studies marine plastic and how impacted communities take action against plastic pollution. Through her work, she gathers stories of people, places, and plastic on the islands of Lanzarote (Canary Islands, Spain) and Menorca (Balearic Islands, Spain) to understand how we can learn to live with limits and recognize when enough is enough. As co-coordinator for the international research network Marine Sciences For Society, she has co-written and co-edited several publications and serves as a core member of the Organizing Team and Scientific Committee for the biennial MICRO international conference series on plastic pollution from macro to nano. She also co-coordinates the working group for Zero Plastic in Biosphere Reserves. Ms Jorgensen looks forward to meeting the participants in the Plastics: Impacts and Action course, learning about your plastic experiences, and discussing ways to create a more equitable planet without plastic pollution. 

Ms Jorgensen will be aided in teaching by our Civic Ecology Lab veteran online instructors: Cornell professor Dr Marianne Krasny and Cornell research associate Dr Yue Li.


Environment and education professionals, volunteers, university students, and plastic-concerned citizens from any country. Discussions will be in English and Chinese.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, participants will:

  1. Learn about systems thinking and apply systems thinking to describe the plastic lifecycle, plastics' global circulation as goods and waste, and the environmental and health impacts of plastics.

  2. Discuss the feasibility and effectiveness of plastic governance approaches.

  3. Develop and implement a locally-relevant action to address plastic pollution.

  4. Critically reflect on the experience and outcomes of your plastic pollution intervention and write a 1-2 page report describing your action and reflections.

  5. Participate actively in a global online community of plastic-concerned citizens.

Course Outline

Each week includes recorded short lectures, readings, and short assignments. During the course, we will also hold live webinars to allow course participants to hear from experts, ask questions, and discuss ideas with other participants and instructors. 

  •     Week 1: The Global Plastic System

  •     Week 2: Plastic Impacts

  •     Week 3: Plastic Governance

  •     Week 4: Creativity in Action


March 14 – April 10, 2021. Assignments must be completed no later than April 17, 2022.


4 weeks (4-5 hours of work per week). During the course time, we will release most of the course materials including pre-recorded video lectures, readings, and discussion questions every Monday morning (NY time). You can choose anytime during each week to review. We will host one webinar via ZOOM each week (Wednesdays 9am NY time) and one “student hours” webinar for participants to ask questions each week (Thursdays 9am NY time). Webinars and Student Hours will be recorded for participants unable to attend in person. Throughout the course, you will be working on your plastic pollution intervention. During the last week, you will complete and submit a final report on your project to design and implement a locally-relevant plastic pollution intervention.


Participants who complete the course are awarded a Cornell University certificate (PDF). Weekly assignments include watching lectures, completing readings, and responding to discussion questions. Participants are required to participate in a minimum of one course webinar. The required course project is a 1-2 page report on a plastic pollution intervention you designed and, if possible within the course time frame, implemented in your community.


We provide one weekly webinar. You can participate in them live or watch the recorded version.


$60 fee. Most participants pay this fee.

Options available to pay a higher fee ($120) to sponsor another student, or pay a lower or no fee if you are unable to pay or live in countries without internationally accepted payment systems (e.g., Afghanistan, Iran).

Educational approach

The course is based on two principles: (1) Learning is social: participants learn by discussing ideas and sharing resources; (2) Learning should lead to action: participants will apply course content to designing a locally-relevant plastic-pollution project of their choice and implementing it in their community.


EdX Edge (BNU Site for Chinese) for pre-recorded lectures, readings, and discussion questions (asynchronous). We will also use Facebook, WhatsApp and Wechat for optional informal discussions and sharing. We will host weekly webinars via ZOOM and post recordings on EdX Edge and BNU Site for participants unable to attend in person.


1. What time(s) of the day will this course take place?

During the course, we will release most of the course materials including pre-recorded video lectures, readings, and discussion questions every Monday morning (NY time). You can choose anytime during each week to review. We will also host one ZOOM webinar each week. Webinars will be recorded for participants unable to attend in person.

2. Why do you have three types of enrollment for different fees?

We are committed to creating equal access to the course materials and to instructor feedback regardless of where a student lives or his/her ability to pay. Students can pay a reduced fee or not pay if they live in a country that does not have a system to transfer funds to the U.S. (e.g., Afghanistan, Iran, Somaliland) or because the basic $60 fee is beyond their reach (economic hardship). Most course participants pay $60, which helps support our online courses. We depend on your course payment to pay our teaching staff, and we are grateful for your support!

3. If I pay $120, can I link with the student I sponsor?

No, we would like to keep who pays and who doesn’t pay anonymous. However, you will be able to connect with students from many different countries through the course social media and EdX Edge discussion board.

4. Can I sponsor more than one student?

Yes, we would be grateful for your support of other students, especially in developing countries, who otherwise cannot afford paying for this course.

5. What is the refund policy?

You may request a refund by Friday, March 18.

6. How long is the course?

This is a 4-week course with one additional week to complete the course project (see details above). If you complete all required course assignments you will receive a Cornell Certificate.

7. Can I submit the course project in my native language?

We strongly encourage you to submit all assignments in English so that instructors and other students can give you feedback. But you can also submit your final project in Chinese or Spanish. We have teaching staff who speak these languages.

8. How will I receive course certificates?

You will receive your course certificate via email within two months after the end of the course.

9. What social media are used in this course?

We use optional Facebook, WhatsApp, and WeChat groups for participants and instructors to share ideas and resources. Only course participants can be part of these groups; please do not invite people outside this course.

10. Can I share course materials with my colleagues and friends?

You are NOT allowed to share, copy, distribute, or forward any materials from this course. They are only for your own learning.

If after reading above, you still have questions, contact us at  

(Please write “Plastics” in the subject line.)


Bethany Jorgensen

PhD Candidate

Krasny 1.jpg

Dr. Marianne Krasny


Yue Li profile.jpg

Dr. Yue Li

Research Associate

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