Talia's Reviews > Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

Plastic by Susan Freinkel
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's review
Aug 26, 2011

really liked it
Read from December 14 to 28, 2011

This book is an excellent introduction to the history and life cycle of plastic. It provides a broad overview of our thoroughly modern counterpart plastic in many of its most commonly encountered forms. I chose this book after participating in a marine debris cleanup effort and feel that it provides a good baseline set of facts to help guide my further inquiries about plastics and the waste stream.

The author uses an interesting method of focusing on one plastic item per chapter to help tell the story of different types of plastics, when and why they were developed, how they are more or less reusable, and where we can go from here. You learn about the plastic comb, the frisbee, the lighter, the plastic bag, the soda pop container, etc... And all along the course of this thing-based exploration you also get to go into polymer chemistry, recycling (or lack thereof), Made in China, "Matter out of Place" (marine debris), and many other interesting topics.

So, of course the book makes you starting asking yourself lots of questions about your own habits, and those of your friends and peers. Does anyone else really know that 4% of our global supplies of oil and gas are used as feedstock for plastics, and that an additional 4% of those limited resources are used in the manufacturing/production of plastics each year? How many people know that the company that first developed and helped popularized the now ubiquitous plastic grocery bag was Mobil Oil? Would people change their single-use plastic bag habits if they knew Big Oil was benefiting from their use?

Plastic: A Toxic Love Story was a great start for learning more about plastics, and has really piqued my interest to go deeper.

From the book:

P7 – “We became plastic people really in the space of one generation. In 1960, the average American consumed 30 pounds of plastic products. Today we’re each consuming more than 300 pounds of plastics a year…”

P139: “Technically speaking, there’s not a huge difference between a Bic and a Zippo…But the fact that a Zippo can be refilled and a Bic cannot bespeaks a world of difference. If you can’t reuse or repair an item, do you ever really own it? …In the era of disposability that plastic has helped foster, we have increasingly invested ourselves in objects that have no real meaning in our lives. We think of disposable lighters as conveniences…and yet we don’t think much about the tradeoffs that convenience entails..."

P162: “…Public relations campaigns…remind people about the benefits of plastics and industry-sponsored bills and programs…promote recycling, which he called a ‘guilt eraser…’.”

P172: “The stunning success of the PET bottle wrought a number of changes that [its inventor] surely couldn’t have anticipated. Soda makers could more easily package their drinks in bottles that were positively Goliath compared to the dainty 6.5 oz. glass bottles that launched Coca-Cola into American iceboxes nearly a century ago…Bigger bottles encouraged bigger consumption. By 2000, the average American was guzzling about 50 gallons of soda pop a year, about double the amount in pre-PET days.

Good excerpt from the intro: http://www.susanfreinkel.com/books_Pl...


Industry has shown notable improvement
453 words
9 January 2012
Plastics News
Volume 23; Number 40
(c) 2012 Crain Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

With the start of a new year, Plastics News restates its editorial agenda. The plastics industry has made important progress in many of these areas in the past decade, and we applaud the efforts.

* Safety must be every company’s top priority. That includes keeping workers safe and making products consumers can use with confidence. Processors, suppliers, workers and regulators must work together to make the plastics industry a leader in worker and community safety.

Plastics companies have a responsibility to consumers to ensure that their products are safe. Likewise, consumers, regulators and legislators have a responsibility to deal with plastics-related issues without bias, but rather by considering scientific evidence, as well as price and performance issues.

* Bans and taxes that encourage replacing plastic products with less-sustainable alternative materials must be discouraged.

* For too long, plastics have suffered from an image problem. The industry must combat misinformation by highlighting the benefits of plastics.

* Sustainability is a priority. Profitability and sustainability are not mutually exclusive concepts — true sustainability will result in long-term health for the plastics industry. Companies should consider sustainability when making decisions about resource utilization, including material selection and energy use. The industry should consume resources with the attitude that they will become more scarce in the future.

* Plastics processors need accurate, timely information to help them make informed decisions. They need data on the industry’s size and importance, so they can make their communities aware of its significance as an employer and a contributor to the economy.

* The industry should speak with a unified voice. This requires cooperation at all levels of the leading trade associations, as well as international and regional groups, and with business, consumer and environmental organizations. Processors and suppliers should take an active role in their communities and in trade groups.

* The free market is the best mechanism for raising the standard of living, encouraging democracy and rewarding hard work. Free trade encourages efficiency and inspires stability around the world. Government tax policies should motivate entrepreneurs and investors, help industry compete globally and strive for fairness.

* All sectors of the plastics industry must recruit and retain talented workers. Groups should strive for diversity in management.

* Recycling efforts must be promoted. Americans have become too comfortable in their habit of throwing away used plastics items. Products should be designed to take into account recycling, source reduction, health and pollution issues. Where practical, single-use plastics should be recycled, incinerated for energy or at the very least put in a landfill — not become litter or marine debris.

* The industry should support state and national bottle bills, since bottle-deposit programs have proved effective in collecting a clean, valuable recycling stream.


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message 1: by Erica (new)

Erica Awesome review! Thanks Talia. I often try to think about what would be different in a world without plastic. (Or oil, for that matter.) Have you read Kuntsler's -World Made By Hand-? It's definitely got its problems, esp. on the gender front, but overall I thought pretty creative in imagining a world w/o oil (or the moment right after the oil runs out).

I'm LOVING this quote: "If you can’t reuse or repair an item, do you ever really own it?" (By the way, to suggest another piece of fiction, but this one is one I truly love, have you read Zadoorian's -Second Hand-?)

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