School of Social and Political Science

The Plastic Pandemic


Date & Time

1 June, 1pm - 6pm Workshop: 1pm - 5pm Reception: 5pm - 6pm


Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, 12 Infirmary Street Edinburgh EH8



The Plastic Pandemic


'The Plastic Pandemic' consists of a workshop (1pm-5pm, please register) and an exhibition reception and networking event (5pm-6pm, just turn up!).

Workshop 1pm-5pm (limited spaces, please register)

The global effort to develop, manufacture and distribute life-saving medical devices to counter the Covid-19 pandemic was unparalleled in speed and scale. Hitherto unprecedented quantities of single use diagnostics, vaccine vials and syringes, and disposable face masks were transported around the world, used and, somehow, disposed of. In the context of a public health emergency, the life-saving qualities of such devices far outweighed concerns about where the plastics that they were made from might end up. Yet, the mountains of Covid-waste that were left behind also reveal how essential single-use plastics have become to modern health-systems in general and the urgent need to reinvent our systems of medical innovation, manufacturing, distribution and disposal for a more circular and sustainable age.

This joint University of Edinburgh and Heriot Watt University event brings together researchers from the history of medicine, medical anthropology, engineering, advocacy and NHS Scotland to explore the contingent histories and possible futures of single-use medical devices. We aim to foster fruitful exchanges and conversations around what can be learned about medical disposability from the past, what is desirable and feasible in the building of sustainable medical futures, and possibilities for collaboration between the social sciences and engineering, and across Scotland’s universities.


Syringes: Professor Jeremy Greene (Johns Hopkins University), Ruth Stringer (Health Care Without Harm)

Masks: Professor Bruno Strasser (University of Geneva), Professor David Bucknall (Heriot Watt University)

Diagnostics: Dr Alice Street (University of Edinburgh), Professor Maiwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas (Heriot Watt University)

Systems: Claire Lindsay (Heriot Watt University), Wendy Raynor (Head of NHS Circular Economy Programme).


Exhibition (5pm-6pm. No need to register)

Test and Throw: Stories of Diagnostic Discard

A collaboration between the DiaDev Project University of Edinburgh (, the MKK Lab Heriot Watt University ( and the Edinburgh Earth Initiative (

Partner institutions

  • Heriot Watt University
  • DiaDev
  • Edinburgh Earth Initiative