Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

By SUSAN FREINKEL

We’re all stuck in Plasticville, intimately yoked to “avariety of synthetica” that makes our lives more livable. Yet, as thesubtitle suggests, our passionate, decades-long affair has an evil flipside:this marvelously malleable material imperils the environment, wrecks our genes,and diminishes our very humanity.

It’s powerful stuff. Science writer Susan Freinkel beginsher evenhanded investigation of this twisted relationship by trying to countthe number of plastic things she touches throughout the course of a day; injust forty-five minutes, she has listed almost as many. Zeroing in on eightcommon objects lets Freinkel create her own comprehensive narrative polymer.Combs and chairs, for example, show how early experiments created new substances,which allowed for aesthetic innovations. Beauty, formerly the provenance of thewealthy, suddenly became available to everyone.

Disposable lightersand plastic bags, on the other hand, illustrate our descent into a “shop-and-toss”mentality, one that the West has begun rapidly exporting. She visits factoryworkers making Frisbees in China and anti-plastic activists in California.Ultimately, she favors a sensible approach: acceptance of plastics’ ubiquity,followed by behavior modification (carrying reusable bags to the grocery store,reducing consumption, buying products that are built to last, and so on). “Intoday’s world, there are no perfect choices,” she writes. “[A]ll wecan do is be aware of the tradeoffs.” Seriously eco-minded readers might notfind much new here, but the recently green and the not-yet-converted will find Plastic: A Toxic Love Story full offacts worth mulling.

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