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The Plague of Plastic

THE PROBLEM

On average it takes 450 years for plastic to decompose. Plastic is filling landfills and seeping into the ocean harming wildlife. If we hope to continue living on earth we need to begin taking care of the planet and that begins with minimizing waste. Plastic is one of the largest contributors to landfills and we need to work as a society to limit our use in order to keep our planet healthy.

Living in a large city like Chicago trash is not an uncommon occurrence, on the streets or in subway stations. That is not the only place it is found however, trash has found its way into the park where our school sports teams practice, onto the beach where students hang out, and even into the lake. The trash directly affects my friends and I on a daily basis in our community. This issue is a massive one in today’s society, but as a student I tried to focus on a plausible way of making a difference to our plastic consumption in my community.

I go to the Latin School of Chicago and our cafeteria sells 3 different brands of plastic water bottle. For my Catalyst project I looked at the relationship between students and the school when it comes to plastic water bottles and alternate water consumption methods using the knowledge i have gained through the game theory course.

HOW PLASTIC BOTTLES AFFECT US

MODELING

Game Theory focuses on simplifying problems into straight forward strategies and players. By simplifying the situation we are able to identify dominant strategies and the best possible solution for both parties. To represent the problem we use a matrix.

THE PLAYERS – The players in a game are

  • School I go to the Latin School of Chicago and in the cafeteria they sell water bottles. The school is a major player in this game because it is one of the two parties involved in the use of water bottles at my school. The school sells water bottles in order to profit.
  • Students – Students at the Latin School of Chicago are the other major player. Students purchase water bottles from the cafeteria for convenience of transportable water.

STRATEGIES

  • Strategies for the School
    • Continue selling plastic water bottles at same price. Change nothing about what they are doing
    • Stop selling plastic water bottles entirely, removing them from the cafeteria.
    • Raise the price of the plastic water bottles in the cafeteria.
  • Strategies for the Students
    • Buy the plastic water bottle.
    • Use reusable water bottle or water fountain and do not purchase plastic water bottles

MATRIX

Now that we have identified the players and their strategies we can create a matrix to solve the problem. We also have to assign payoffs to each combination of strategies. The first value will represent the payoff for the student and the second number will represent the payoff for the school.

    SCHOOL SCHOOL SCHOOL
   

Continue selling plastic water bottles at same price. Change nothing about what they are doing.

Stop selling plastic water bottles entirely, removing them from the cafeteria.

Raise the price of the plastic water bottles in the cafeteria.

STUDENT Buy the plastic water bottle. 2 , 4 -1 , 0 1 , 3
STUDENT

Use reusable water bottle or water fountain and do not purchase plastic water bottles.

4 , -1  4 , 2 4 , -1 

PAYOFFS

What do these numbers represent? To assign the payoffs for each box of the matrix I considered student satisfaction, profit, and convenience.

  • Row 1, Column 1 – The student receives a payoff of 2 because they receive the convenience of a plastic water bottle, but have to pay. The school has a payoff of 4 because it makes a profit and the students are happy.
  • Row 1, Column 2 – The student receives a payoff of -1 because they don’t have a water bottle and are not able to purchase one so they are unhappy. The school receives a payoff of 0 because their students are unhappy since they do not have the ability to purchase plastic water bottles.
  • Row 1, Column 3 – The student receives a payoff of 1 because they still have the option of buying a plastic water bottle, but they must now pay more for that convenience. The school receives a payoff of 3 because they will still receive approximately the same profit (less sales, but higher price), but now some students are unhappy since they cannot afford higher prices.
  • Row 2, Column 1 – The student receives a payoff of 4 because they have reusable bottles and are happy with their situation (have access to water whenever they need). The school receives a payoff of -1 because they spent money purchasing bottle, but are not able to sell them.
  • Row 2, Column 2 – The student receives a payoff of 4 because they have reusable bottles and are happy with their situation (have access to water whenever they need). The school receives a payoff of 2 because they haven’t purchased any bottles and their students are happy.
  • Row 2, Column 3 – The student receives a payoff of 4 because they have reusable bottles and are happy with their situation (have access to water whenever they need). The school receives a payoff of -1 because they spent money purchasing bottle, but are not able to sell them.

CONCLUSIONS

In Game Theory we have learned many different methods of solving matrixes and finding the dominant strategy. Sometimes there is not a dominant strategy but in the game I created to represent the issue at my school there is a dominant strategy. I used movement diagrams to find the dominant strategy. For the student the best strategy is to use a reusable water bottle or the water fountains. They don’t have to spend money and they still have access to water through out the day. For the school the best strategy surprisingly is to stop selling plastic water bottles in the cafeteria. The school doesn’t spend money purchasing bottle that won’t sell and their students are happy.

Even though my criteria for creating the payoffs did not include the effect that plastic bottles have on the environment the result was still the most environmentally friendly. Even if the environment was not a factor in my school’s decision making they should still come to this decision.

NEXT STEPS

With this information I believe that reusable water bottles should become a part of the things necessary for students to have at school similar to laptops, books, and pencils. There is no need for my school to be selling these plastic bottles and they should slowly begin to take them out of the cafeteria forcing students to convert to reusable water bottles.

HOW CAN YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE

  • Take this poll – This is to help understand how big the issue of plastic bottles is in high schools around the world
  • Start the conversation – talk to teachers at your school about moving away from plastic water bottles and enforcing a reusable bottle policy
  • Clean upsIf you can’t change your school beach and park clean ups are common in many cities. Helping clean up these public places is a huge help that is easy to do. If you can’t find one organize one!

EXTRA LINKS

THANK YOU FOR READING!

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