Visualising Plastic Ocean Pollution: Designing Waste Ontologies

Dimitrijevic, Katarina. 2023. Visualising Plastic Ocean Pollution: Designing Waste Ontologies. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

It is challenging to comprehend the extent of oceanic plastic pollution because of the sea depth and currents. This PhD by practice in design uses marine scientific findings and data on plastic waste recycling extrapolation to support an argument that the oceans are the world's largest mismanaged landfill. As the sea's landfill is not visible, the research applied various approaches to making invisible plastic waste present. Through Higher Education (HE) action-based workshops, research participants were invited to experience ocean plastics in ways designed to challenge perceptions. The HE action-based research co-created an aesthetically positive waste response and new experiential values that re-shaped the thinking of participants. Through a co-design approach with design students, research created meaningful connections with long-lasting plastic resources and re-imagined plastic pollution as oceanic species.

This PhD thesis research comprises a series of three practice-based projects. First, HE-based waste symposium engagements facilitate landfill dialogue and promote plastic reuse. Second, HE participatory workshops enabled the visualisation of oceanic plastic pollution through making installations. Third, the research explored plastic pollution using craft expositions and participated in a sailing expedition. The PhD interventions promoted positive change through hands-on reuse tactics with plastic packaging, raising environmental and oceanic landfill awareness, and acknowledging that this may not lead to changes in stakeholders' behaviour.

Through the design agency-praxis, the research draws on recent works in speculative design formulating experiential design futures and design fictions. These PhD thesis contributions funnelled visual strategy insights from three practice-based interventions into two experiential scenarios - future-based climate fiction narratives. The first future scenario unpacked the responses of HE design workshop stakeholders and proposed informal global services and design-led packaging solutions. The second fiction scenario is a visionary post-anthropocentric future that visually re-imagined the planetary plastic pollution changes through intersections of research and praxis.

This participatory research re-imagining with plastic waste and visualising the complexity of plastic pollution contributes further to knowledge relating to design research in three clustered domains. First, various HE learning tools for oceanic environmental awareness and waste reuse were developed. Second, the research designed an innovative methodology that expands praxis vocabulary and forms a new eco-centric compendium through workshop interventions and waste aesthetic approaches. Lastly, through practice-based participatory action and speculative agency, the research uniquely constructs a socio-material narrative with plastic things making new interdisciplinary connections and design relations to nature.

The PhD promoted hands-on plastic reuse and new perceptions of plastic waste in HE design education, connecting to discard study, marine science and feminist thinking. A co-creation design approach raised transformative environmental awareness and promoted novel waste aesthetic and design language towards engaged relationships with plastic pollution.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Design Research, Praxis, Design Activism, Plastic Waste, Reuse, Visualising Pollution, Waste Aesthetic, Environmental Awareness, Design and Nature, Participatory Workshops, Experiential Scenarios, Waste Ontologies.

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



31 January 2023

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 Feb 2023 11:47

Last Modified:

13 Feb 2023 15:00


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