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Waste and pollution

Module information>

Academic Direction
Birkbeck, University of London
Modes of Study

This module provides an overview of the causes and impacts of waste and pollution, examining risks to terrestrial, aquatic and marine environments, humans and other living organisms.

The module highlights links between environmental processes and social inequalities at global, national and local scales. Students will take part in debates about how waste and pollution can and should be reduced and managed to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing), 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), and 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production). The module will invite students to consider contested ideas and diverse forms of knowledge about the environment and sustainability.

Topics covered

Main topics of the module include:

  • What is pollution and why does it matter? The major classes of marine and terrestrial pollution, their sources, effects and changes over time
  • Environmental monitoring – how can the distribution of pollution be understood across boundaries?
  • Why do we pollute our planet?
  • What is waste? Was it the same in the past? Will it be the same in the future?
  • Waste reduction and management: product lifecycles, recycling, reduction and reuse
  • Who lives with waste and pollution? The uneven distribution of the effects of environmental degradation and waste work
  • Waste and pollution policies and practices: International dilemmas and transboundary pollution; national approaches and legislation; local responses and vulnerabilities
  • Qualitative interviewing and interview analysis

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, you will be expected to be able to:  

  • critically evaluate the complex drivers and consequences of environmental pollution and waste for different societal groups, applying academic concepts and theories.
  • articulate the diverse, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary framings of environmental pollution and waste and their management.
  • assess the effectiveness, equity and trade-offs of different policies for pollution and waste management at global, regional and local levels and over time.
  • evaluate existing debates and concepts about the nature of waste and pollution.
  • develop and apply qualitative interviewing and analysis skills to support conclusions and consider implications for policy and practice.
  • develop effective independent learning skills in terms of time, planning, motivation, and creativity. 


  • Final piece of coursework (100%) 

Entry requirements

To qualify to register for a stand-alone individual module, applicants will need a bachelor’s degree or Aegrotat (certificate) from an institution acceptable to the University.