Multi-scalar interactions between mismanaged plastic waste and urban flooding in an era of climate change and rapid urbanization

Elizabeth A. MacAfee*, Ansje J. Löhr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Mismanaged plastic waste (MPW) and urban flooding are typically considered distinct environmental challenges. However, there are notable links between growing quantities of MPW and the rising incidence of floods in cities. A majority of people now live in cities, especially along coastlines and in estuaries where residents are both vulnerable to flooding and significant sources of plastic waste. Predicted increases in the frequency and severity of heavy rainfall associated with anthropogenic climate change coincide with rising global quantities of MPW, much of which is discharged into water bodies and the sea. Given the urgent and expanding nature of these issues, understanding impacts of urban floods on solid waste management and vice versa is crucial. Social-ecological systems (SES) thinking calls for a holistic approach to the relationships and interactions between human actors and environmental systems which can result in dynamic and emergent outcomes. In this review paper, we make a first step towards better understanding of the interactions between urban flooding and MPW by synthesizing emerging quantitative and qualitative research on particular aspects of such interactions. More research is needed which explicitly focuses on and elaborates the nature of these interactions, and also to consider potential relations across scales (from global to local) and over both long and short timeframes. We conclude that an SES approach can make visible novel possibilities for interventions which are context specific and sensitive to the interactions between urban floods and MPW. This article is categorized under: Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change Human Water > Water Governance Engineering Water > Planning Water.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1708
Number of pages13
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water
Issue number2
Early online date19 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2024


  • floods
  • interactions
  • plastic pollution
  • social-ecological
  • waste management


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