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Plastics: Impacts and Action

  • 4-week Global Online Course

  • April 1 – April 28, 2024

  • 25 professional development hours

  • For school teachers, educators, university students, education leaders, and volunteers

  • Learn from Cornell University instructors, guest speakers, and participants from around the world 

  • Optional live webinars with experts

  • Receive a Cornell University certificate

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Translation for participants in China:

中国学员请关注公众号 (CornellCEL) 获取课程中文详情。

Registeration is closed
Beach Cleaning
Plastic Polluted Ocean

Meet Our Team



Bethany Jorgensen, PhD

Course designer,

Cornell University and New Mexico Highlands University

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Marianne Krasny, PhD

Course co-designer,

Cornell University Professor

As you learn with us, you will be supported by our experienced and dynamic team! Instructors include Bethany Jorgensen and Marianne Krasny. The course team also includes several co-instructors, teaching assistants, and administrators. We cannot wait to have you in our course!


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Alex Kudryavtsev, PhD

Course co-designer, main instructor in 2023.

Cornell University

Research Associate

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Fish Yu

Graduate student in Natural Resources and the Environment, Cornell University

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Unji Lee

Chief Programmer of the

Education Sector at RCE Tongyeong / Sejahtera Forest

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Bomyung Seo

Senior Programmer of the Education Sector 

at RCE Tongyeong / Sejahtera Forest

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Renda Sun

AMS Candidate in Environmental Conservation Education at NYU

Course Administrators

Please refer to our FAQs below. If you still have questions, feel free to ask Amy Daniel and Kim Snyder, our course administrator, any questions about this course. When you contact us, please type "Plastics" in the subject line of your email.

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Amy Daniel

Course administrator, Cornell University MPH candidate

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Kim Snyder, MS

Course administrator,
Program Coordinator at Mass Audubon

Support team in Korea

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Woojin Lee

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Seoyeon An

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Yena Cho

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Hyun-a Choi

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Seeun Park

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Jaeyong Sung

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Course description

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.


Teachers, educational professionals, volunteers, parents, university students, and environmentally-concerned citizens from any country.

Learning 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 develop and implement a Plastics action plan in their communities, neighborhoods, organizations, cities, or educational programs.


We will use a learning management system (edX Edge) for readings, video lectures, and discussion. We will also use Facebook, WhatsApp, and WeChat for optional informal discussions and sharing among participants. The course is asynchronous, and a few optional live meetings will be recorded an posted on edX Edge.

Course outline

Week 1: The Global Plastic System

  • A brief history of plastics

  • Intro to systems thinking

  • Plastic from start to finish

  • Plastic pollution overview

  • Plastic and environmental justice

Week 2: Plastic Impacts

  • Plastics and climate change

  • Macro plastic impacts

  • The rise of microplastics

  • Aquatic plastic pollution

  • Litter cleanups

Week 3: Plastic Governance

  • Extended Producer Responsibility

  • Recycling

  • Bag bans

  • Biodegradable, compostable, & bio-based plastics

  • Astroturfing and greenwashing


Week 4: Creativity in Action

  • Repurposing

  • Reuse and repair

  • Circular and sharing economies

  • The art of plastic waste

  • Thinking outside the plastic system

After Week 4, course participants will have two weeks to finish and submit a 1-page summary of the action they design -and take, if possible- to intervene in their local plastic pollution system; the final project for this course.

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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 page report describing your action and reflections.

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


Total workload is 25 hours, which will be reflected on your certificate. On average, participants work on this course about 5 hours per week. The course includes four weeks of instruction, and two weeks to submit the final project (an action plan). Weekly assignments include lectures, readings, and discussion questions. Participants are required to participate in a minimum of one course webinar synchronously or by watching one recorded webinar. Required course project is creating a Plastics action plan.

Cost: $70

Value for the price is excellent. Our courses depend on your contribution, which is paid by most participants. You can pay a higher fee ($120) to sponsor another student, or a lower or no fee if you cannot pay or live in a country without international payment systems (e.g., Afghanistan, Iran).

Your Certificate

Participants who complete the course – including the weekly assignments and the final project – are awarded a Cornell University certificate (PDF).

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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What time(s) of the day will this course take place? 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 and learn from the course materials. We will also host one live webinar each week. Webinars will be recorded for participants unable to attend in person.

  2. Why do you have more than one level of course fees? To ensure equal access to course materials and instructor feedback, we are committed to providing materials to all students regardless of their location or ability to pay. There is an option for students to pay a reduced fee if they live in a country without a system to transfer funds to the U.S. (e.g., Afghanistan, Iran, Somaliland) or if they cannot afford the basic $70 fee (economic hardship). Participants in most countries can afford this price, provided they don't have serious economic problems. For course development, offering, and administration. We appreciate your support!

  3. If I pay more than $70, 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 countries with emerging economies, who otherwise cannot afford paying for this course.

  5. What is the refund policy? You may request during the first week of the course.

  6. How long is the course? This is a 4-week course with two additional weeks to complete the final project (one-page lesson plan). 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. Our teaching staff speak English and Chinese.

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


If you have other questions, please contact our course administrators ( Please write “Plastics” in the subject line.

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