The presence of plastic materials is emerging as a problem for human and non-human life as part of an environmental crisis with massive spatial and temporal scales. This thesis explores the experiences, activities and perspectives of people who avoid plastic materials in urban Australia. I draw on ideas from new materialism and assemblage theory to reveal effort, affect and care as defining features of a ‘material politics of plastic’. This research contributes to understanding the exercise of agency with political purpose at the household level and the work of reconfiguring human relations with influential materials within broader assemblages. The research opens up the enactment of political responses to materials through mundane practices, and care and ethical aspiration as political forces. The research also explores how and why households innovate to intervene in environmental crises.
I use data from qualitative, semi-structured interviews with 36 people who identified themselves as ‘avoiding plastic’ to build an account of the material politics of plastic. I asked these people about avoiding plastics - what they are doing, why, and the contexts of their actions. Participants shared their expertise and experiences of exercising agency with political purpose in response to plastic materials, revealing a novel form of politics. It is enacted through directed and consistent effort, is affective and disruptive, and sees agency exercised with and through care. This politics is experienced as hard work, an ethical and gendered endeavour entangled with intimate social relations and culinary practices in the household, and a tangible point of intervention in environmental crises. People who avoid plastic are innovative pioneers at the household level. Larger-scale responses to plastic materials, in the kinds of public policy, systemic and large-scale change that are needed, can build on and support their novel politics.