Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

 Susan Freinkel, author of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story.

 “Who’d have thought that combs, Frisbees and lighters could have such secret histories and such disturbing futures?

Susan Freinkel’s page-turner brings together history, science and culture to help us understand the

plastic world that we have wrought, and has become part of us. Although we should all worry that

plastics will persist for centuries, Plastic deserves to endure for years to come.”

—Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing

 

Plastic built the modern world. Where would we be without bike helmets, baggies, toothbrushes, and pacemakers? But a century into our love affair with plastic, we’re starting to realize it’s not such a healthy relationship. Plastics draw on dwindling fossil fuels, leach harmful chemicals, litter landscapes, and destroy marine life. As journalist Susan Freinkel points out in this engaging and eye-opening book, we’re nearing a crisis point. We’ve produced as much plastic in the past decade as we did in the entire twentieth century. We’re drowning in the stuff, and we need to start making some hard choices.

Here are just a few of the fascinating, and often startling, revelations:

  • In 1960, the average American consumed 30 pounds of plastics a year.  Today, just 50 years later, Americans consume on average 300 pounds a year.
  • We’ve produced nearly as much plastic in the first ten years of the new millennium, as in the entire preceding century.
  • All Americans now carry traces of dozens of synthetic chemicals in their bodies – including fire retardants, bactericides, pesticides, plasticizers, solvents, heavy metals, waterproofing agents, stain repellents, Teflon and other compounds. Even newborns harbor chemicals – on average 200, according to one study.
  • Plastic debris is now found in even the most remote places, like the Antarctic Ocean.
  • Though most plastic can be recycled, almost none is. Only plastic beverage bottles and milk jugs, #1 and # 2 plastics are recycled in any great numbers. Even so, nearly three-fourths never get into the recycling stream, and instead wind up in landfill or incinerators

Freinkel gives us the tools we need with a blend of lively anecdotes and analysis. She combs through scientific studies and economic data, reporting from China and across the United States to assess the real impact of plastic on our lives. She tells her story through eight familiar plastic objects: comb, chair, Frisbee, IV bag, disposable lighter, grocery bag, soda bottle, and credit card. Her conclusion: we cannot stay on our plastic-paved path. And we don’t have to. Plastic points the way toward a new creative partnership with the material we love to hate but can’t seem to live without.