Abstract

The United States currently produces about 1 million metric ton of ocean plastic pollution annually. One proposed solution to combat plastic waste is a circular economy (CE), which aims to transition from today’s take-make-waste linear pattern of production and consumption to a system where the value of resources is maximized over time. Two key methods in industrial ecology are useful in assessing the viability of CE: (1) System Dynamics (SD) and (2) Agent Based Modeling (ABM). In prior work, the plastic life cycle was modeled with SD and ABM. The two models calculate recycling rates and costs in different ways, making it difficult to pinpoint necessary next steps. We integrate the ABM and SD models — linking the emergent patterns from micro-level human decisions to system level processes — which allows a more comprehensive understanding of feedbacks, costs, and environmental impacts. The integrated model is more accurate, and can be used to visualize recycling rates and human health and environmental impacts over time. The difference between the integrated and original SD model prompts a Sobol sensitivity analysis, which is used to understand which behavioral factors most affect plastic recycling patterns. We find that the habitual component is typically the most influential in promoting positive recycling behavior. Additionally, we utilize the combined model to understand and visualize how various behavioral intervention scenarios, like improved access to recycling programs and cart tagging, influence recycling patterns; these results can guide future policy-making.

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