Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

(Click above to hear the author on "Fresh Air")
"But it wasn't clear to me just how plastic my world had become until I decided to go an entire day without touching anything plastic. The absurdity of this experiment became apparent about ten seconds into the appointed morning when I shuffled bleary-eyed into the bathroom: the toilet seat was plastic. I quickly revised my plan. I would spend the day writing down everything I touched that was plastic.

Within forty-five minutes, I had filled an entire page in my Penway Composition Book...

By the end of the day...the list included 196 entries..."

This fascinating look at the everyday encounters with plastics in our environment traces the history, development and our tortured love affair with plastics. Freinkel takes us to the refineries that produce the building blocks, the laboratories that develop the complex polymer chains, to manufacturing plants, wholesale and retail operations, municipal waste  treatment facilities, recycling operations and also explores the unintended consequences of our "one-way waste stream".

The account is a fairly balanced look at both the immense value and convenience and even environmental benefits plastics have brought to our lives, and the serious challenges such an abundant material has created in terms of health (with a thorough discussion of phthalates and other plasticizers), the environment and promotion of a "disposable world".

She gives considerable coverage to the search for solutions to plastic's "persistence" in the environment and development of alternatives to petroleum-based resins, weighing the merits of each line of research and development.

It's an entertaining and very educational work of investigative journalism.

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