Skip to main content

Educational Resources on Plastic Pollution

Learning Goals

  1. During the playing of The Plastic Pipeline, players will learn how to examine different proposed policy solutions from around the world.
  2. After playing The Plastic Pipeline, players will be able to share and discuss knowledge learned from the game.

About the Experience

The Plastic Pipeline was created as a tool to make environmental policy research come to life. That is to say, we took research being conducted by the Wilson Center's China Environment Forum and transformed it into a fictional play experience. This is not a game about how to recycle; this is a game about the choices being discussed by governments, industry leaders, and environmentalists to reduce plastic pollution and save our oceans (and lives!). The game setting is entirely fictional (as is hopefully obvious from our characters!), but the policies are really being debated around the world.

The game is divided into three parts, and shows the ways policies can come to play at the various points in the "life cycle" of a plastic product: production, consumption, and disposal or waste. Players start at a place that they may be familiar with as consumers, in a place called "Plasti City" that represents consumer-level actions. After this level, players will have the choice of going either upstream to where plastics are produced or downstream of Plasti City where plastics are disposed of—or playing our "mini-game" on nurdles.

Players will be asked to talk to an array of characters to learn more about different perspectives on actions and policies they can take, weigh the pros and cons, and hunt for clues to unlock new policies. We encourage players to think critically; there are no right or wrong answers, just what you think about what policies are best based on the evidence.

Before Playing

The first step is familiarize yourself by playing through The Plastic Pipeline!

Begin the lesson by giving your students a short introduction to the game, tailored to your audience.

The Plastic Pipeline is a game created by the Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington DC that performs nonpartisan research on global affairs to inform policymakers. The game is based off of research on the single-use plastic pollution and explores the different ways we can, as a community, help stem the tide of pollution going into our oceans. You play as an investigative journalist who arrives in Plasti City to investigate the different possible policy solutions. Go around, talk to characters, and collect clues so that you can learn about different policy-solutions, as well as their pro's and con's.

Remind your students of the topic(s) being taught within the current unit. You can tailor the content and impacts of the game to align with what you are teaching. Some examples may include:

  • Public policy and its global impacts
  • Environmental action
  • Human behavior and its impacts on oceans

We recommend finding current events from both your locality and internationally to show your students that there are tangible implications for your lesson both domestically and abroad.

The controls for The Plastic Pipeline only include clicking with the mouse. We recommend demonstrating this to your students, as they may be more familiar with certain control schemes over others, or unfamiliar with game controls entirely, for varying reasons.

After Playing

After playing is a good time to discuss the experience with your students. Ask questions about the learned impacts from the game. Some more broad examples may include:

  • What policies did you pick in each location, and why?  What were your considerations for choosing policies?
  • What was the most fun?
  • How did playing nurdle alert feel? 
  • How much would you say you know about plastic pollution after playing?
  • What do you think the effects of plastic pollution are?
  • Did playing the game change your interest in politics and policy issues? How so?
  • Do you feel as though you can impact policy issues?

We'd love to learn where you are playing the game, and with who! Email the Serious Games Initiative at with any feedback.